Arafat's Authority tortures its people

A damning report by Palestinian human rights investigators yesterday accused Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority of routinely torturing its own people and covering up a saga of suspicious deaths.

Citing 18 cases where Palestinian prisoners have died since 1994, the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group denounced the authority for its "failure to deliver promises to investigate; attempts to escape responsibility; callous dealings with the families of the victims; impunity for most of those involved in torture; and silencing the media".

Bassem Eid, the group's executive director, told The Independent: "When somebody dies in custody, in only a minority of cases does the Palestinian Authority ever take legal measures to punish the perpetrators or to trace responsibility up the chain of command. It is giving a kind of immunity to these torturers and killers."

One of the report's most disturbing case studies is that of Nahed Dahlan, 24, from Zaweida, Gaza. When Palestinian security men dumped him 50 yards from his house, he was spewing up blood and shaking.

A relative helped him inside. Before he died, an hour later, he told his family that Palestinian intelligence officers had tried to force him to withdraw a complaint accusing fellow Palestinians, now close to the self-rule authority, of collaborating with the Israelis when he and they were held in an Israeli prison during the intifada.

The Palestinian Attorney-General, Khalid al-Qidra, announced that Dahlan had committed suicide by swallowing pesticide and had left a note explaining why. No note was ever produced, and the night he died security agents raided his house and confiscated a diary in which he had written that his life was being threatened.

Mr Eid made an international reputation investigating Israeli ill-treatment of Palestinians. He switched the spotlight to his own people after Mr Arafat returned from exile three years ago. His group is funded by the European Commission, Canada, Holland and Norway.

Mr Eid himself was detained by Palestinian security men for 24 hours in January 1995. The only good news he reported yesterday was that no human rights activists had been locked up this year. "The Palestinian Authority," he smiled, "has only two more weeks and it will be a first: no human rights activists arrested in all of 1997."