Fourteen Palestinian Authority security officers accused of killing leading anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat have been released on bail.
The decision to release the officers, who belong to the Preventive Security Service, came on the first anniversary of the killing of Banat, who died shortly after he was arrested at a relative’s home in Hebron on June 24, 2021. They were arrested last year and have been indicted in a PA military court.
The officers were released because of fear of the spread of coronavirus in the PA-controlled prison where they were being held.
Palestinian sources said that the PA warned Banat’s family against holding rallies marking the first anniversary of his death.
The slain activist’s widow, Jihan, told the Hamas-affiliated Shehab News Agency that the officers were released “in violation of all laws and judicial decisions in clear disregard for the feelings of his family, children, fans and human rights defenders.”
“This proves that we live in the law of the jungle.”
She pointed out that while the officers have been released, Banat’s cousin, Ammar, who is a key witness in the case, remains in detention.
“It is absolutely not true that Nizar was killed by mistake, as they claim,” the widow said. “He was killed based on a political decision and by the highest authorities to target him and silence his voice in the most horrific way. The only way to implement justice for Nizar is to punish the real perpetrators and those behind his assassination.”
"Nizar... was killed based on a political decision and by the highest authorities to target him and silence his voice"Slain Palestinian activisit Nizar Banat's widow, Jihan
Officers released due to COVID-19 concerns
The Palestinian Independent Commission For Human Rights (ICHR) said that the decision to release the officers was issued by the PA military prosecutor due to the health conditions arising from the spread of the coronavirus.
The group called on the PA to expedite the procedures for the trial of the accused without delay in order to ensure justice for Banat and his family and friends.
“In view of the violations that affected the entire release process, the commission calls for due legal procedures, respect for the independence of the court, and correction of the procedures that violate the law, as the decision of the military prosecutor to grant the defendants leave has no basis in Palestinian law,” ICHR said in a statement.
“Also, the reasons associated with the prevention of the spread of the coronavirus do not justify deviation from the rule of law. This procedure, as it was carried out, entails an assault on the authority and jurisdiction of the court.”
“The flawed military trial of 14 low-ranking security officers will not bring about justice,” according to Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “There needs to be a civilian trial following international standards, not just a smokescreen to protect those higher up. It is essential that the individuals who gave orders to arrest Nizar Banat for no lawful reason, and who oversaw the assault, are also held to account.
“Under international human rights law, cases involving human rights violations should be prosecuted in civilian courts, even if they involve members of the military,” she said. “The Palestinian Authority must immediately transfer this case to the civilian justice system, to ensure that proceedings are independent of those involved in the crime.”
EU criticized for resuming Ramallah's financial aid
Prominent Palestinian author and journalist Nadia Harhash criticized the European Union for resuming financial aid to the PA on the anniversary of Banat’s “assassination.”
“On the first anniversary of Nizar’s assassination, the European Union rewarded the authority for its crimes,” she said. “The Palestinian Authority is being rewarded for its brutality against the people. The Europeans are sending a message that they stand with tyranny, oppression, injustice and corruption. Nizar’s murder silenced and frightened us.”
“On the first anniversary of Nizar’s assassination, the European Union rewarded the authority for its crimes”Palestinian author and journalist Nadia Harhash
Last week, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen visited Ramallah and held a press conference with PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh during which they announced the renewal of European aid to the Palestinians, which amounts to 250 million euros a year.