Negligence by members of the Israel Prison Service may have enabled Ben Zygier, also known as “Prisoner X,” to commit suicide while incarcerated under maximum security at Ayalon Prison on December 15, 2010, according to details from a report on his death released on Tuesday by an Israeli court.
The Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court decided to allow the release of sections of the official investigation into the 2010 death of Zygier following a petition by Channel 10 and Channel 2.
Zygier hung himself with a wet sheet in the shower of his cell’s bathroom at 8:19 p.m. on December 15, 2010, the hitherto-classified report states. His family “took an active part” in the investigation of his death, the newly released material shows, and a decision was taken on May 24, 2011 to give the family all the investigative material and conclusions.
The investigation broadly indicates that Zygier committed suicide, and notes that “all sides accept this,” but in one clause it states that, strictly legally speaking, the conclusion of suicide does not entirely exclude the investigation of other causes of death, including “whether death was caused by a criminal act” and whether “in future it might be possible to identify suspects.”
The partial declassification of the report came on the heels of a Tuesday article in Maariv that published information reportedly obtained from a leaked copy of the court’s conclusions from the investigation into Zygier’s death. The Maariv article noted that Zygier was not on suicide watch at Ayalon Prison, and was able to hang himself without the guards noticing.
In her conclusions published on Tuesday, Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai wrote that she “found evidence allegedly suggesting the culpability of officials in the Israel Prison Service.” She added that the responsibilities of the guards are “many and severe,” and that in this particular case they were particularly serious given the “cloak of secrecy, compartmentalization, and different gaps in the information.”
Special instructions, she added, had been provided to prevent suicide attempts, and those responsible for Zygier’s supervision were aware of the regulations. However, the instructions were not followed by the prison guards, she wrote, and Zygier used the “window of opportunity” to take his life.
Zygier, a Melbourne native and Mossad operative, was secretly arrested and jailed in early 2010. He was imprisoned by Israeli authorities after he reportedly revealed information to officers from Australia’s ASIO internal intelligence agency, including on a major upcoming operation in Italy, according to Australia’s ABC television. However, Israel said later Tuesday that he had not revealed any such information to Australian authorities.
Australia has launched its own probe into the affair and has requested Israeli cooperation. In addition, a Knesset intelligence subcommittee said it would look into the affair.
Ilan Ben Zion and Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.