ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY: ‘Secret trial’ of Gaza aid worker will not deliver justice

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1 Sep 2016
[International Secretariat]

The Israeli authorities must ensure that the trial of a detained humanitarian worker employed by the charity World Vision is fair and open, said Amnesty International on the eve of his trial, amid reports that the proceedings are due to take place in secret.

Mohammed al-Halabi, the manager of Gaza operations for the NGO, is facing 12 charges including being a member of a “terrorist organization” and siphoning off the charity’s funds for “terrorism” purposes.

The lawyer is prevented from disclosing the details of that allegation, as well as many other elements of the case, by a set of severe restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on reporting around the case.

“Secret trials are the most flagrant violation of the right to a public hearing. Holding these court proceedings behind closed doors would render any convictions obtained unsound,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.

According to international standards trials can be held in secret only in exceptional circumstances. While grounds of national security may exceptionally justify closing some or all of a trial, the Israeli authorities have not put forward a case to explain why such conditions are necessary for this trial.

It has also been reported in the media that he was severely beaten and his ‘confession’ to stealing 7.4 million USD a year was obtained under duress. This appears to be a dubiously high figure, given that according to World Vision, managers in his position only have the authority to authorize spending up to a maximum of 15,000 USD of the budget at a time and the organization’s total Gaza budget for the last decade was approximately 22.5 million USD.

Any evidence obtained through torture, or other inhuman treatment must be excluded from proceedings. Without independent and impartial investigations into these allegations the trial risks being fundamentally flawed,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

The Israeli authorities have also made a number of statements that risk prejudicing the course of justice. For example, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement treated as fact the allegations that Mohammed al-Halabi is a member of Hamas and stole 7.4 million USD a year.

“The Israeli authorities must cease all statements that could prejudice the outcome of the trial. Reporting allegations as fact is a violation of the presumption of innocence,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

Mohammed al-Halabi has worked for World Vision since 2005. World Vision has launched an independent investigation into the allegations and suspended its humanitarian work in Gaza following his arrest. Several governments have announced the suspension of their funding to World Vision’s projects in the Occupied Palestinian Territories pending the outcome of the investigation.

29 August 2016

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