GENEVA, September 9, 2020 – Ahead of a United Nations debate next week on arbitrary detention, a coalition of 70 NGOs announced today that it lodged a legal complaint with the UN to demand the release of Rami Aman, the Palestinian peace activist in Gaza who has been famously jailed by Hamas since April 9th for having organized a Zoom video call between Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, and who now faces increased danger due to fears of the coronavirus spreading in prison in Gaza.
The legal complaint to the UN’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an independent tribunal of five jurists and human rights experts, was submitted by a cross-regional coalition of more than 70 UN-accredited non-governmental organizations from numerous countries including Bangladesh, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Nigeria, Morocco, Pakistan, Switzerland and the United States. (See list of NGOs in annex to complaint.)
The NGOs intend to raise the case of Rami Aman at the UN Human Rights Council next week when the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention appears before the 47-nation plenary for an interactive dialogue on September 18th.
The UN experts’ rulings are not legally binding, but are cited by judges worldwide and can exert pressure on governments to release those imprisoned without due process.
“Hamas’s arbitrary and unlawful arrest and detention of Mr. Aman for the crime of ‘normalization’ is part of a pattern of repression and intimidation against dissidents who dare to speak out against the authoritarian regime,” said Hillel Neuer, an international human rights lawyer, and director of the Swiss human rights NGO UN Watch, one of the 70 signatories of the appeal.
“Our complaint seeks to hold Hamas — and the Palestinian Authority, which claims jurisdiction in Gaza — accountable for the wrongful imprisonment of Mr. Aman, a violation of international law and of Mr. Aman’s universal human rights.”
“We hope that in next week’s UN debate countries like Canada, France, Germany, the UK and other democracies will take the floor to speak out for the release of Rami Aman.”
Background of the Case: Arbitrary Detention of Rami Aman
Rami Aman has been arbitrarily detained by Hamas since 9 April 2020 for exercising his rights to freedom of expression and association.
Mr. Aman is a 38-year-old Palestinian journalist and peace activist in Gaza. He founded the Gaza Youth Committee, which recently joined the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP), an international coalition of groups that promote Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
On 6 April 2020, Mr. Aman and his group conducted a Zoom video call with more than 200 Israeli and Gaza peace activists. The nearly two-hour meeting was part of a series of meetings titled “Skype With Your Enemy,” that had been taking place for the past five years. An invitation to the Zoom conference was posted on Facebook for an opportunity to “open a channel of communication between Gazans and Israelis.” During the call, Mr. Aman encouraged participants to believe in peace and continue advocating for change.
On 9 April 2020, Hamas authorities arrested Mr. Aman and seven others accusing them of treason. The arrest was announced on Facebook by Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad El-Bozom, who accused the activists of “holding a normalization activity with the Israeli occupation.”
Many activists and the United Nations itself have called for Mr. Aman’s release, including in statements by Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov and by the UN human rights office.
The detention of Mr. Aman is arbitrary because there is no legal basis justifying the deprivation of his liberty. The laws invoked by Hamas—provisions of the PLO Revolutionary Penal Code of 1979—concern “inciting individuals to join the enemy” and “propaganda aimed at weakening the revolution.” These laws are not sufficiently clear in prohibiting the type of peaceful expression engaged in by Mr. Aman and his colleagues.
Mr. Aman is being accused of treason for having engaged in peace dialogue with Israelis. By its nature, “normalization” (i.e., peace dialogue) implicates the rights to freedom of expression and association. The detention of Mr. Aman fits in a pattern of Hamas’s past violations of Mr. Aman’s rights to freedom of expression and association.
Mr. Aman was previously detained and interrogated by Hamas on a number of occasions as a result of his activism—including for organizing a joint bike ride with Israelis along the Gaza border fence and criticizing Hamas for torture. Mr. Aman and his group are also subject to surveillance by Hamas because of their activities.
Finally, the detention is arbitrary because of Hamas’s failure to observe the international norms relating to the right to a fair trial. First, the warrant for Mr. Aman’s arrest was issued by the Hamas Military Prosecution. This is not an independent and impartial authority. Second, Mr. Aman was held incommunicado for a full week before being permitted to meet with an attorney. Furthermore, he was denied communication with his family for more than two weeks after being detained. Third, in the five months he has been detained, Mr. Aman has never been brought before a judge, has not had any opportunity to challenge his detention and no trial has yet been scheduled. Fourth, though he is a civilian, his case is before a Hamas military court, a violation of international law.
The 70 NGOs are particularly concerned about Mr. Aman’s physical and mental well-being given that Hamas routinely tortures detainees. In its press release about this case, Human Rights Watch stated that it has documented that “Hamas authorities routinely arbitrarily arrest and torture critics and opponents.”
The PA and Hamas must act to immediately release Mr. Aman.