During winter, the air conditioning blows out freezing air. A light is kept on around the clock to keep inmates awake. Food provided in the cramped cells is raw or rotting.
As Palestinian security detainees undergo interrogation by the Israel Security Agency (ISA) at Shikma Prison in southern Israel, they are held in “hellish” circumstances designed to break their will – and that is before their questioning begins.
That, at least, is the grim portrait of conditions for Palestinians held at Shikma because of suspected security offences that emerged from a joint report by two leading Israeli human rights groups, based on 116 sworn affidavits taken from prisoners detained between August 2013 and March 2014.
“Conditions at the Shikma facility are an inherent part of interrogations there: they serve to weaken both mind and body, complementing the actual interrogation of detainees in the interrogation room,” says the report, issued by B’tselem and HaMoked rights groups and funded by the European Union.
Detainees were held in solitary confinement in cramped and foul-smelling cells no more than two metres long, the report claims. Most underwent their interrogations – which varied in length from one to 40 days – with hands tied behind them to the chair on which they sat, the report said.
Seats were often unusually small or low, tilted backwards or forwards and in some cases were fixed to the floor. Some 25 former detainees reported suffering pain to their back, neck, legs or hands, which some described as “intense” or “hellish”, from prolonged shackling and the nature of the chair.
A Palestinian identified only as “LH” from the West Bank city of Hebron said he was made to sit on a chair with two short back legs. “When you sit on it, it makes you lean back but the interrogator yells at you to stay straight,” he said in his affidavit. “To do that, you have to lean forward. It hurts your hands and back. The pain in my arms and hands, and especially in my left arm, became unbearable.”
It is the most in-depth report to date dealing with the Shikma facility and according to B’tselem spokeswoman Sarit Michaeli it backs up previous reports describing similar abuses at other ISA facilities. Those interviewed for the report were suspected of security offences, including violence against Israelis.
The affidavits were taken in prisons elsewhere after the interrogation process was completed and the Palestinians had been charged, tried and were serving their sentences. A small number who were released without being charged were interviewed at home.
Most of those arrested spent two to four weeks under ISA interrogation, eventually confessed and were charged and convicted. Those under interrogation were brought before a judge to extend their arrest within eight days of being taken into custody.
Thirty nine had previously also been arrested and interrogated by the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces and many reported being tortured or severely abused by the PA.
Israel’s Justice Ministry termed the report “tendentious”. It said that ISA interrogations “are conducted within the confines of the law and with the aim of pre-emptively foiling and preventing illegal activities aimed at harming state security, its democratic regimes or its institutions.” It added that conditions in Shikma “do not resemble those described in the report and they comply” with the law.
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