Family of activist who died in Palestinian custody turn to ICC

Nizar Banat, a critic of President Mahmoud Abbas, died in 2021 within an hour of his arrest. His family now seeks accountability for the death.

 Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 2, 2021. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Palestinian demonstrators attend an anti-Palestinian Authority protest, forty days after the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 2, 2021.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

The family of an activist who died in the custody of the Palestinian Authority's security forces has called on the International Criminal Court on Thursday to investigate, in what they say is the first communication to the court from Palestinians against their leadership.

Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of President Mahmoud Abbas's PA, died in June 2021 after security forces arrested him at a house in the West Bank city of Hebron.

An autopsy conducted by a Palestinian rights group said Banat was struck in the head and body, leading to his "unnatural death" within an hour of his arrest.

Banat's family has lost trust

"After losing trust in the Palestinian judiciary's independence, Nizar Banat's family is now requesting that International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Khan investigate the brutal killing of their son and hold those involved accountable," a statement signed by his brother, Ghassan Banat, said.

The PA, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment on the case. It has charged 14 low-ranking officers with various offenses in connection with Banat's death. All have pleaded not guilty.

 Demonstrators react towards Palestinian police officers during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 26, 2021. Picture taken June 26, 2021. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS) Demonstrators react towards Palestinian police officers during a protest over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the Palestinian Authority, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 26, 2021. Picture taken June 26, 2021. (credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

A flawed trial

Amnesty International has called the trial "flawed" and said those who gave the orders to arrest Banat must also be held accountable.

Stoke White Lawyers, the firm that filed the ICC referral, said in a tweet that the "grotesque" release of the 14 suspects for a nine-day holiday in June was among the factors motivating the family.

The ICC has separately been investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Israeli military or Palestinian groups in the Palestinian territories since March 2021.

Banat's death heightened criticism of the PA under Abbas, whose popularity has plummeted since he assumed office in 2005, opinion polls show. The incident sparked days of protests in the West Bank that were violently suppressed by Palestinian forces.