The Haifa-based Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Ramallah-based Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association sent an urgent letter to interim Israel Prison Service (IPS) Director Asher Va’aknin demanding immediate preventive measures to detect and prevent the spread of coronavirus at Ofer prison.
The Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs reported on April 1 that a Palestinian prisoner released the day before from Israel’s Ofer prison in the occupied West Bank has tested positive for coronavirus.
The report from the Palestinian detainees’ commission is extremely worrisome and indicates the need for immediate measures to detect and isolate prisoners who had been in contact with the released individual who tested positive for coronavirus, the two rights organizations said in a joint press statement.
The coronavirus patient had been housed in Wing 14 of Ofer prison, which is used for prisoners and detainees in transit to other prisons or detention centers.
Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany and Addameer Director Attorney Sahar Francis stressed in the urgent letter that the presence of coronavirus in this particular wing endangers not just the health and lives of prisoners being held at Ofer but also at other Israeli prisons as well.
The patient had been in custody since 18 March, almost two weeks before the virus was detected – and during its incubation period. There is a grave concern that he was infected in the Israeli prison.
Given this concern, Israeli prison authorities must take all measures to determine the source of the infection, and this must include testing all prisoners, guards, and other Israeli prison personnel for coronavirus.
Amongst other measures, Adalah and Addameer called on Israeli prison authorities to locate and isolate all prisoners and detainees who were in contact with the patient – or who were housed in the same transit wing with the patient – and provide them with any necessary medical care. The organizations also called on Israeli prison authorities to disinfect the wing in which the patient was housed, and to distribute disinfectant equipment and protective gear to prisoners and detainees.
“Israeli authorities must take preventive and health safety measures to protect prisoners from coronavirus. We called for these measures days ago, but the situation is now dire after it was confirmed that a prisoner held by Israel has been infected. The lives of prisoners cannot be endangered. This is a violation of their basic human rights,” said Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany.
Addameer Director Attorney Sahar Francis also said that “Israel’s failure to conduct medical examinations and checks – especially those related to coronavirus – poses a direct risk to the health of the prisoners and is an expression of overt negligence and contempt for their lives. This is a serious matter and it must not be allowed to happen.”
There are over 5000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, have made several calls on Israel to release the prisoners, at least the elderly, ill, women and children.