The United Nations (UN) has raised the alarm over the health conditions of hunger-striking Palestinian inmates in Israeli prisons.
“I am especially alarmed by reports of punitive measures by the Israeli authorities against the hunger strikers, including restricted access to lawyers and the denial of family visits,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein in a statement on Wednesday.
Since April 17, more than 1,600 Palestinian prisoners have been refusing to eat food as part of a protest action dubbed the Freedom and Dignity Strike, led by imprisoned Marwan Barghouti, a former top leader of the Palestinian Fatah Movement.
The strikers are demanding basic rights, such as an end to administrative detention, solitary confinement, and deliberate medical negligence.
The much-criticized administrative detention is a policy under which Palestinian inmates are kept in Israeli detention facilities without trial or charge. Nearly 700 prisoners are currently held in administrative detention. Some of them have been held in such detention for up to 11 years.
The Israeli regime has sentenced Barghouti, a popular figure among Palestinians, to serve five life terms in prison over his role in the Palestinian Intifada (uprising), and the Israel Prison Service (IPS) has placed him in solitary confinement since the initiation of the strike.
The IPS has been punishing the hunger-striking prisoners by placing them in solitary confinement and denying them legal visits by their families and lawyers since the strike began on April 17, which also was the Palestinian Prisoners’ Day.
Zeid, the UN human rights chief, added that, according to international human rights law, the right to consult an attorney was a “fundamental protection” and should “never” be violated.
He also said the health conditions of the hundreds of hunger strikers had “deteriorated significantly.”
Zeid’s comments came as lawyers with the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society announced that at least 60 imprisoned hunger strikers in Ohalei Kedar prison had been moved to infirmaries, set up in the prison, for observation. Many of the hospitalized inmates were in serious condition, the lawyers added.
On May 16, the Arabic-language al-Aqsa satellite television network reported that 76 hunger strikers in Israel’s Ofer prison had been taken to the Hadrim field hospital for treatment and possible force-feeding, adding that 36 other hunger strikers from the same jail had been taken to the hospital for observation the previous day.
Earlier this month, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which visits Palestinian prisoners, called on Israeli authorities to end administrative detention and to allow family visits. It said that under international law, the visits “can only be limited for security reasons, on a case by case basis, but never for strictly punitive or disciplinary purposes.”
Back in 2012, a similar hunger strike involving some 2,000 Palestinian inmates ended after an agreement was reached with Israeli authorities to terminate the policy of internment without trial or charge.
Some 6,500 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli jails, 536 of them arbitrarily, according to figures provided by the Palestinian prisoners’ rights group, Addameer, in January.
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