Australia seeks explanations over 'Prisoner X' affair

ABC News says unnamed prisoner who hanged himself in Ayalon Prison in 2010 may be Australian recruited decade earlier into Mossad; Israeli ambassador meets with Australian Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister over matter.

Screen shot of ABC program 370 (photo credit: Screen shot ABC News)
Screen shot of ABC program 370
(photo credit: Screen shot ABC News)
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is seeking answers from his own department in the wake a TV expose of the reported suicide by an Australian citizen held in isolation in an Israeli jail. According to the Australian Associated Press, Carr maintains that "he was acting on Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice when he told the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program this week that the government knew nothing of Mr Zygier's detention until after his death in 2010." Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem met with the Australian Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop on Wednesday
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Australia's ABC station quoted Bishop as saying that the reported fate of the prisoner is "a matter that I'll raise directly with the Israeli embassy to get an understanding of the basis for it."
"If there are security considerations I can understand it, but if it's just about embarrassing a government agency, then that certainly requires an explanation and I'll be seeking one," she added.
On Tuesday night ABC aired a report that an anonymous prisoner who hanged himself in Ayalon Prison in December 2010could be an Australian who had made aliyah and subsequently recruited into the Mossad.
The report, on ABC's “Foreign Correspondent” program, stated that there is strong reason to believe that so-called “Prisoner X” was Melbourne-native Ben Zygier, known in Israel as Ben Alon. The report states that Zygier was jailed for unknown reasons in early 2010, a decade after he moved to Israel and years after he was recruited into the Mossad. The report also claims that Zygier's detention has been one of the most closely-guarded secrets in Israel in recent years, and that the Israeli media unable or willing to report on it and the security establishment has gone to extraordinary lengths to cover up his very existence in prison and the circumstances of his death.
The ABC piece says that Zygier was kept in the isolation cell originally built to house Yitzhak Rabin's assassin Yigal Amir, and was kept under constant surveillance until his "apparent" suicide. The report quotes an unnamed source as saying that Zygier was working for the Mossad after being recruited as a new immigrant. It also says some that some time after he moved to Israel, Zygier took out a new Australian passport under the name of “Ben Allen," and hints that this may have been so he could travel more inconspicuously in countries hostile to Israel.
In addition, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr is quoted by ABC as saying that Canberra authorities were never contacted by Zygier's family while he was in custody, nor were formal complaints ever presented by them.
After Zygier hung himself, his body was flown back to Melbourne and buried in a Jewish cemetery in Springvale on December 22, 2010, according to the report. The report states that the program has evidence that a death certificate was issued for Zygier at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, ruling the cause of death as asphyxiation by hanging, and that his body was at Ayalon jail.
Correspondent Trevor Bormann says his program lodged a Freedom of Information request with the Department of Foreign Affairs asking for documents relating to Ben Zygier, and were told by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that there are documents relating to Zygier's death and imprisonment but that they could not show them to the show because it could have “a substantial adverse impact on the proper and efficient conduct of consular operations.”
Foreign reports also stated that Zygier was the son of Geoffrey Zygier, the executive director of the Victoria Jewish Community Council and one of the leaders of the Melbourne Jewish Community.
On Tuesday Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said the citizens of Israel will eventually learn information on the Prisoner X case that the government has censored, as Mks asked him about the case on the floor of the Knesset following news of the ABC report.
"An article was published that an Australian prisoner committed suicide under a different identity. Do you know about the situation? Do you confirm that it occurred?² asked MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al)."
"Are there people in prisons whose incarceration is kept secret? What are the supervision mechanisms on this kind of imprisonment?" demanded Hadash MK Dov Henin. "What are the possibilities for parliamentary supervision on such incarcerations? How can the public be critical in this situation?"
Meretz MK Zehava Gal-On told Neeman, “I want to hear your stance on the fact that journalists volunteer to censor information at the government's request.”
Referring to the informal forum that includes the heads of the country's Hebrew press outlets and The Jerusalem Post, she asked, "Is it proper that the Prime Minister¹s Office invited the Editors' Committee to prevent news from being publicized? Today, we hear that in a country that claims to be a civilized democracy, journalists cooperate with the government, and that anonymous prisoners, who no one knew existed, commit suicide.”
The questions came during Neeman's final speech as justice minister. Neeman responded that prisons were not under his authority, and that the Mks should ask Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch their questions. He added that he did not know if the reports were accurate, and that they should be investigated.
Labor MK Nachman Shai criticized the very existence of a censor. “The prime minister forgot that in 2013, the media does not accept his dictates and does not act according to national consensus as in the past,” he stated. “It would be better to present the public with the truth, within security restrictions, and share it with them.”
Shai plans to propose a bill limiting the possibility of censorship, calling the wide use of the practice “ridiculous and upsetting.” The Labor MK will demand that the courts review censorship requests, and if their content is published in the foreign press, Israeli media should be permitted to print them.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report