PA Lockup on New Prisoner Death

Had Ayman Samarah been found dead in an Israeli prison cell, he’d be just as famous as Arafat Jaradat, who was all over the news last week.

But Samarah died in a Palestinian Authority prison cell, not an Israeli one.

The PA wouldn’t allow Palestinian journalists to cover the story. Imagine that.

According to the Jerusalem Post‘s Khaled Abu Toameh, Samarah was being held in Jericho jail, charged with assault. Family members said the 40-year-old Samarah had diabetes and high blood pressure.

The PA is investigating the death, but Toameh raises a lot of questions:

One journalist, Mustafa Khawaja, who worked for the local Al-Aksa TV station, was detained by PA security officers for several hours when he tried to report on a sit-in strike by families of Palestinians held in Jericho Prison . . .

Palestinians said over the weekend that some detainees had complained of torture while being held in the prison.

On Saturday, the mother of Karim Shaheen, who is being held in Jericho Prison, said that her son has been hospitalized after suffering from paralysis in in his left arm as a result of torture.

The family of another detainee, Baha Zahdeh, also accused the PA security forces of torturing their son, who is being held in the same prison on suspicion of membership in Hamas.

The PA was quick to make groundless vile claims that Jaradat was tortured during interrogation and then moved to a cell with Palestinian collaborators who promptly killed him. Israel will probe Jaradat’s death. The inquiry will include an international observer.

Considering the PA’s failed effort to cover up Samarah, don’t expect Ramallah to hold itself to the same lofty standards of transparency it demands of Israel.

Which raises the issue of another double-standard at play.

Ironically, just one day before Samarah’s death, Tim Marshall of Sky News observed that the torture and death of detainees in PA custody never gets the same media interest as anything that happens behind Israeli bars.

Contrast this with a subject which rarely gets headlines, and which fails to spark debate; the conditions of Palestinians in Palestinian jails. Few people speak for them, their fate does not generate demonstrations or agonised debate, nor righteous anger in the outside world . . .

Palestinians are well aware that few people will stand up for them if they are taken into the police stations and prisons run by the Palestinian authorities in either Gaza or the West Bank. They know that torture in these establishments is routine and that deaths in custody occur there as well.

Indeed, there was no shortage of Big Media interest in Jaradat.

His death, funeral, and the international reactions were duly noted by AP, Reuters, BBC, Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times, Wall St. Journal, The Independent, The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Irish Times, Time, Sydney Morning Herald and CNN, among others.

Having set such a high bar on prisoner coverage, can these papers match their output for Samarah and his outraged family?

Or do dead detainees not make a sound when they fall in a Palestinian prison?

Image: CC BY flickr/Casey Serin.