Israel frees Palestinian clown held without charge for 20 months

Circus performer Mohammad Abu Sakha kept behind bars since December 2015 over his alleged membership in a terror group

Protesters in London call to free Palestinian clown Mohammad Abu Sakha in January 2016 (YouTube screenshot)
Protesters in London call to free Palestinian clown Mohammad Abu Sakha in January 2016 (YouTube screenshot)

A Palestinian clown accused by Israel of membership in a terrorist group and held without charge for 20 months has been released.

Mohammad Abu Sakha, 26, told AFP on Thursday he was released the day before from administrative detention, the controversial measure under which Israel detains suspects without trial for periods of several months, renewable indefinitely.

He said that following his release he returned to the northern West Bank city of Jenin, where family and friends were waiting to welcome him.

“It was like a party,” he said.

Abu Sakha had been part of the Palestinian Circus School in Bir Zeit in the West Bank since 2008, first as a student and later as a clown and teacher.

He said Israeli forces never told him the exact reason for his arrest in December 2015 nor how long he would be detained.

The Shin Bet security agency accused him of being a member of the a secular terror group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Amnesty International had called for his release.

Israeli circus artists protest for the release of Palestinian detainee Abu Sakha, a circus performer on a 6-month administrative detention, outside the Megiddo prison northern Israel, Wednesday, March 2, 2016. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

He said he would “absolutely” be returning to the circus as it was “a message.”

“Israel arrests people every day, and closes them off economically,” he said. “The circus gives people hope.”

The army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Administrative detention is intended to allow authorities to hold suspects without charge so information is not disclosed that could jeopardize security.

The system has been criticized by Palestinians, human rights groups and members of the international community.

Of around 6,200 Palestinians currently in Israeli jails, around 450 are being held under administrative detention, Palestinian rights groups say.

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