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Amnesty accuses PA of shielding brass in trial over Abbas critic’s death

Rights group says Palestinian Authority putting up ‘smokescreen’ with prosecution of low-ranking officers, year after death of vocal activist Nizar Banat in police custody

Angry demonstrators carry pictures of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, and chant anti-PA slogans during a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
Angry demonstrators carry pictures of Nizar Banat, an outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority, and chant anti-PA slogans during a rally protesting his death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Amnesty International said Friday that the Palestinian Authority has failed to hold its security forces accountable for the death of an activist in police custody a year ago.

The family of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of the PA, says security forces stormed his residence in the middle of the night and beat him with metal batons.

His death sparked weeks of protests against the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, some of which were violently dispersed.

Palestinian authorities arrested 14 officers last summer and are trying them in a military court, but have taken no action against top commanders.

Amnesty said the 14 were allowed a “holiday” from detention running from June 21 until July 2.

“The flawed military trial of 14 low-ranking security officers will not bring about justice,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty’s regional director for the Middle East and North Africa.

A man stands with his chest bared during clashes between Palestinian protesters and Palestinian security forces in the city of Ramallah in the West Bank, on June 26, 2021, following a demonstration against the death of human rights activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces earlier in the week. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

“There needs to be a civilian trial following international standards, not just a smokescreen to protect those higher up,” she said.

Three Palestinian officials declined requests for comment on the Amnesty statement.

Amnesty cited Ghandi Rubi, a lawyer for the Banat family, as saying they had completely withdrawn from the trial on May 18 because they lost trust in the proceedings. It said they are preparing a case for civilian courts instead.

Ghandi Rubi, a lawyer for the family of Nizar Banat, speaks to reporters outside a Ramallah military courthouse on Tuesday, September 14, 2021 (Aaron Boxerman/The Times of Israel)

Rights groups say both the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and the terror group Hamas, which rules Gaza, use torture and arbitrary detention to silence critics.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called off the first elections in 15 years in April 2021 when it appeared his increasingly fractured Fatah party was heading for defeat. Recent polls have shown that nearly 80% of Palestinians want him to resign.

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