A three-month hunger strike by a Palestinian journalist accused of militancy on behalf of Hamas has prompted stern questions from the United Nations and European Union over Israel’s policy of keeping prisoners in detention without charge.
Mohammad al-Qiq, who was detained by Israeli forces in November, is on the 86th day of a hunger strike in a hospital in northern Israel. Doctors say he is becoming weaker by the day, his speech slow and labored and that he is in pain.
Israel placed him in what it calls “administrative detention,” a practice that has roots in British mandate Palestine. It allows a prisoner to be held for up to 60 days without charge and without viewing evidence against him and can be extended with court approval.
The United Nations, EU and rights groups have expressed concern about Qiq, who is refusing any food or medical treatment, and denounced administrative detention.
On Thursday U.N. envoy on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking Nickolay Mladenov briefed the U.N. Security Council. “I … call for all persons subject to administrative detention to be either charged or released immediately,” he said.
That echoed criticism from the EU in a January statement: “Detainees have the right to be informed about the charges underlying any detention, must be granted access to legal assistance, and be subject to a fair trial.”
Israel says detention without trial is essential in preventing further violence in cases where there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, or where going to court would risk exposing the identity of secret informants.
Qiq is accused of being a member of Islamist group Hamas. The Israeli Supreme Court on Wednesday said he is suspected of involvement in militant activity and contacts with Hamas operatives in Gaza.
“He is, in short, clearly a Hamas activist involved in militant terrorsim,” the court said after reviewing classified information.
Palestinian officials say the 33-year-old father of two, employed by Saudi-owned Al-Majd Television, is being hounded for political resons.
“If Israel has charges against him, bring him before a fair trial. Otherwise free him immediately,” said Qadoura Fares, chairman of the Palestinian prisoner club which advocates for Palestinians jailed by Israel.
There are currently 600 Palestinians held in administrative detention, according to the Israeli Prison Service.
Earlier this month the Israeli Supreme court suspended Qiq’s detention order saying that due to his medical condition he posed no imminent threat. But Qiq has refused to end his strike until the order is canceled altogether.
Faihaa Shalash, Qiq’s wife, told Reuters she had received a midnight phone call in which her husband asked that she and their children come to the hospital.
“There has been a dramatic change overnight and it was the first time Mohammad asked we come to him,” she said. “We are worried.” She said the authorities would not permit her entry into Israel.
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said in a statement the Israeli government “bore full responsibility for Qiq’s life and for the consequences of their delaying his release.”
A law passed in Israel last year permits force-feeding hunger strikers. It has not been enacted and Israel’s medical association has ordered doctors not to abide by it, describing it as unethical and a violation of international conventions.