Exam question lands professor in PLO prison

Discussion of corruption brings down wrath of Arafat's police
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Ten weeks ago Fathi Subuh, professor of education and social problems at Gaza's Al-Azhar University, asked his students in their third-year final examination to comment on the reasons for corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules the Palestinian enclaves, and in the university itself.

"What are the types of administrative corruption in the governmental departments ? What are the reasons behind it?" reads the exam paper set by Dr Subuh. The question seemed relevant since in a poll this July, 45 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank said that corruption was prevalent in the PA and 41 per cent said it was common.

The Palestinian Preventive Security police did not see it that way. On 2 July they arrested Dr Subuh. The students' essays were later confiscated. Bassam Eid, of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group, says Dr Subuh was detained at Tel al-Hawa interrogation centre where "his hands were tied and he was beaten". His wife, Fatima, said that when she eventually saw him - his lawyer has been denied access - "He looked like a man who had come out of his grave."

Dr Subuh, who was interrogated for 40 days, is due to appear before the Palestinian high court in Gaza on 9 September, to find out if he is to be charged. Even if its verdict is favourable his troubles may not be over. Last month, Preventive Security simply ignored a court order asking it to explain why it had arrested Dr Subuh in the first place.

The security police have a problem. They have never officially admitted that they are holding Dr Subuh because he raised the issue of corruption, although the confiscation of the exam papers points to the real reason for the arrest. Instead, they say he is suspected of collaboration with Israel, working for the United States and the Russians and sexually harassing a female student. Given that Dr Subuh was arrested 23 times by the Israelis and the student says no harassment took place, these charges may be difficult to sustain.

In the meantime, Dr Subuh, who is 43, has gone on hunger strike for the second time. "Bad news," his wife said yesterday when asked about her husband's condition. "I've just heard that he went back on hunger strike two days ago. He says that in a week's time he will stop drinking any liquid. I know he has a strong will and he will do what he says."

Mr Eid says a striking aspect of the case is that Dr Subuh has received no support from his university, other professors or his students. This may be in part because Dr Subuh asked his students to comment on corruption at the university. Al-Azhar university has set up a committee to ask Dr Subuh why he set "unacademic questions" in the exam.

The case underlines how little attention the Preventive Security police pays to the Palestinian judicial system and how it portrays any critic of the Palestinian Authority as a collaborator with Israel. In May, Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, was arrested in Ramallah for broadcasting the proceedings of the Palestinian parliament on television. Mr Eid says he knows of 117 Palestinians held without trial by the PA and the real figure is probably higher.

Some Palestinian leaders admit that they pay a high political price for the popular belief that the PA is corrupt. Abdel Jawwad Saleh, PA minister of agriculture, says Palestinians cannot be united or mobilised "until people feel the PA is not corrupt". He said that in spite of waste and corruption in his ministry he had not been able to sack anybody.

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