Russian Compound, Jerusalem - Remand Extension, Administrative Detention

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Ofra Ben-Artzi, Ilana Hammerman (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

Russian Compound

Judge: Hanan Rubinstein

Investigator: Yitzhak (Itzik) Yakoboff

We arrived late, at 11:30, and found two attorneys waiting desultorily outside, in the hallway, because their client, whose case was processed inside, was "barred from meeting with his attorney." We were informed that the court had moved to another room, very close to the entrance. Consequently, our arrival caused unusual crowdedness: we were not allowed to stand in the main hallway, because we were impeding traffic, so ,instead, we were shown into a small vestibule near the courtroom, which we could not yet enter. There were three chairs there, but soon a very polite guard appeared, dragging behind him his blindfolded, handcuffed detainee, and requested that we cede our chair to the detainee, so he could rest from his hardships. He made us stand up, as it is inconceivable that we sit together with this young man, doubtlessly suspected of being a "threat to security of the region." Thus he now had all three chairs to himself, as even the guard did not sit down beside him. We had, of course, obeyed the order, wondering at this unwonted generosity of the guard and went out to stand in the hallway, and again, were severely reprimanded. Luckily, the discussion of the case in the courtroom was short - like all sessions that day - and we were ushered in to serve as a welcome audience for the subsequent cases. Thus, a scuffle in the hallway was averted and we fulfilled our mission, that of serving as the public in these hearings, providing transparency to these proceedings.

The judge, a tall gray haired officer, probably a judge in civilian life too,  in fact, made a point of keeping the discussions short, maybe because this new locale of the military court has no window and is cramped and stuffy. The real sufferers are probably not the detaineesinfo-icon, who are there only briefly, but the honourable people, the judge and the investigator, who spend several hours there, as well as the interpreter, who kept mum the whole time, and actually had nothing to translate, as I shall explain later. Noticing our bemused expressions due to the difficult conditions, the judge beamed and welcomed us to "the detention cell." Everyone smiled in agreement, maybe even the two of us.

The detainees were brought in from their private detention cells (which they dub "zinzanas"). They were represented by the overworked yet indefatigable Firas Sabah and Maamun Hisham. In five out of the six cases we witnessed, there was prior agreement between defense and prosecution for remand extension of 11 days. The names we managed to write down are:

Hamza Mohammad Salem Ruashda, Nadal Ahmed Abdallah Nuara, both suspected of membership and activity in some organization,

and Baha Masuwad (barred from meeting with his attorney). 

In some cases there did not seem to be any process at all, they seemed to end before they even began. Some document of the judge's decision came out of the printer, was handed to the defense, and the detainee who had hardly have a chance to sit down and open his troubled eyes, was ushered out.

We have the impression that the names of some suspects were not even announced. Thus, the interpreter had nothing to translate. The attorney explained the terms of the agreement to his client, who sat next to him due to the limited space in the room, and all the others kept silent. In the one case where a discussion was held (the attorney-deprived detainee), the investigator kept referring the judge to a "confidential file," so nothing was explained, of course. Here too the remand was extended by 11 days.

Attorney Maamun informed us that in all the other cases, an agreement had been reached in the morning, prior to the hearing.

One noteworthy detail: for all the detainees whose "court proceedings" we followed, this was their last remand extension: next time they come before the judiciary system, there will be an indictment, and they will be at Ofer  (we'll try to be present at Ofer on April 6 to observe the procedure).

All detentions are harsh, but in the detention facilities conditions are better than in the interrogation centers.

Additional notes to this report:

In an attempt to understand the conditions under which these detainees are held before and after their court appearance, I met with a former detainee from Bethlehem, who had been held at the "Moskovia" [the Russian Compound] in 2005. I wanted to learn a little more about these faded figures - some mere boys - whom we see during our hours of observation at the military courts, when they are shackled, blindfolded and  pushed to the wall.

Here are some notes from his report:

Imad (not his real name) was arrested in the middle of the night and brought straight to the Russian Compound. He spent the first eight days and nights of his detention at the interrogation-room on the second floor of the building. He was prevented from seeing his attorney or any other person, except the "interrogating agents," as the protocols call these investigators; the judges routinely allow them to "exhaust all avenues of the investigation" in order to "get to the bottom of the truth", as the prosecution puts it.

For eight days Imad was confined to his cell, taken out only to the bathroom and for a nightly shower (for the benefit of the interrogators, I believe, who were in close proximity to him all the time). He ate his food on the desk of the "interrogating agent" on duty. After four days he stopped answering the questions of his interrogators, who were relieved every few hours, and just sat there, on a low chair, head bent, numb and apathetic. His arms were tied to the curved back of the chair  (sometimes the back was curved, at others it was straight and perforated; he drew both chairs and showed me the position he was kept in). After four days he was seen by a doctor who prescribed some medication. He wondered if the pill was not meant to keep him awake (he was not sure about this and stated that the doctor treated him decently; he was a Russian immigrant). Four days later he was transferred to solitary confinement in one of the "zinzanas" on the first floor. In those cells, a faint light is on all the time, the walls are dark and windowless, there's no ventilation except for a boisterous  air condition that keeps the place unbearably cold. He tried in vain to muffle it with his clothes because the two blankets he had been given did not protect him from the cold. The noise gave him no respite as he tried to get some rest before another "interrogation program" as these ridiculous proceedings that we witness are called. They kept moving him from one "zinzana" to another. Eventually he spent a few days in a cell with three other detainees, perhaps police plants. This is how his "interrogation plan" was conducted for 57 days, during which he wore the same clothes, and at the end of which he did not stand trial but was sent to administrative detention for two years. He was released only recently. Not every detainee undergoes such harsh and lengthy investigation, he told me; not every one is sleep deprived for so many days -and some are not deprived of sleep - but the investigation always takes the same form: the small curved chair and the arms tied behind, and the cold, dark, windowless "zinzanas" with a hole for a toilet and a filthy sink and rats that crawl out of the pipes.

So this is where they come from and where the return to after the few minutes we spend with them in the hallway where they stand with their backs to the wall, or on the white bench in the courtroom in this travesty of justice. Their backs are bent, their faces are pale and their eyes blink, because they have not seen daylight for hours and days and weeks; their days in this place are endless, the sun doesn't shine for them, as even in the interrogation rooms the windows are shuttered, and when the interrogator leaves the room for a moment, he covers their eyes, leaving them sightless and bound to the chair. This is the description I heard yesterday. There were other people present when Imad told his story. Occasionally, they added details from their own experiences in other detention centers...