HAIFA, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 (WAFA) - Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel has filed an urgent petition to the Israeli Supreme Court demanding that Israeli authorities take all necessary actions to protect the 450 “security prisoners” being held in the overcrowded Gilboa prison from a COVID-19 outbreak.
Adalah argued that the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and Israel’s Public Security Ministry had failed to implement Israeli Health Ministry guidelines regarding the conditions required to prevent the spread of coronavirus among Palestinian prisoners in Gilboa Prison, located in the north of the country.
Israel holds some 450 people it categorizes as “security prisoners” – most of them Palestinians – in the facility.
Adalah also demanded that the IPS publish detailed information – in Arabic and on a daily basis – on the health status of prisoners related to coronavirus, the conditions provided for prisoners, and any de facto measures that have been taken. To date, the IPS has not published any information on the situation of prisoners and coronavirus.
The Supreme Court ordered the IPS and the state to respond in two weeks, by 20 May 2020.
Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany, who submitted the petition on 7 May 2020 on behalf of the families of two Palestinian prisoners, confirmed that overcrowding in Israeli prisons is a grave danger to the health and lives of prisoners and hinders any measures being undertaken to prevent the spread of the virus – especially directives relating to social distancing.
In Gilboa Prison, six “security prisoners” each are housed in cells 22 square meters in size (including a shared toilet and bathroom) that contain three bunkbeds. They are unable to maintain social distancing from their cellmates, even from their beds which are situated less than 1.5 meters from each other; likewise, the top bunks are positioned just 80 centimeters above the bottom bunks.
Under these conditions, prisoners are unable to adhere to the Health Ministry’s guidelines for preventing the spread of COVID-19, thus endangering their safety and lives.
Adalah’s petition stressed that overcrowding in Israeli prisons is not a new problem. Israeli authorities have still not implemented the Israeli Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling to provide a minimum area of 4.5 square meters per prisoner.
However, the rapid spread of the coronavirus and the fact that prisons – like other enclosed facilities – are dangerous and particularly vulnerable to outbreak as has recently been witnessed in detention facilities around the world, makes this issue all the more urgent. For these reasons, Israeli authorities must take urgent preventive measures to reduce overcrowding and act to preserve the health and lives of prisoners.
Adalah Attorney Myssana Morany commented on the situation: “From the first day of the coronavirus crisis, the Israeli prison service banned Palestinian prisoners’ visits with family members and lawyers – eliminating their direct contact with the outside world and thereby making prisoners more vulnerable to violations of their rights. The IPS also continues to maintain its 2017 policy of banning Arab Knesset members from visiting Palestinian prisoners classified as ‘security prisoners’. There is therefore a double importance to ensuring that Israel assumes its responsibility to protect the health and lives – and also the rights – of prisoners.”