Palestinian journalist to continue hunger strike despite risk of death

Mohammed al-Qeq has refused food for more than 65 days in protest of his detainment without charge in Israeli prison

A Palestinian woman holds a picture of Palestinian journalist Mohammed Al-Qeq, who has been on a hunger strike in an Israeli prison since Nov. 21, 2015, during a protest to show solidarity with him, outside the headquarters of the Red Cross in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Jan. 27, 2016.
Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

A Palestinian journalist on a hunger strike for 65 days has vowed to continue protesting his imprisonment without charge until Israel agrees to release him, a lawyer representing his case said Thursday. The announcement came one day after the Israeli Supreme Court delayed a decision on granting his release.

Mohammed Al-Qeq, a news reporter for Saudi channel Al Majd, has refused food and medical treatment since Nov. 24, three days after he was arrested, and is said to be near death.

"He's in a very bad situation. He fell into his third coma in recent days, and his weight has dropped to 30 kilograms [66 pounds]," Ashraf Abu Sneina, one of Qeq's attorneys, told Al Jazeera last week.

Qeq, 33, is protesting his six-month sentence under Israel’s administrative detention law — a controversial form of imprisonment that allows Israeli authorities to detain individuals indefinitely without charge or trial if they are deemed a security threat.

Israel's Shin Bet security agency alleges that the West Bank resident and father of two has “incited” violence and is involved in “terrorist activities” linked to the armed group-turned-political party Hamas. However, Qeq has denied the charges.

Qeq’s health is currently being monitored by doctors at HaEmek Hospital in Afula, Israel. According to Helal Alosh, head of Amnesty International’s Occupied Palestinian Territories and Anti-Discrimination Campaigns, Qeq has both his legs and one arm cuffed to his hospital bed, and is being watched over by prison guards.

Despite a contentious new law that allows Israel to force-feed hunger strikers if their lives are deemed in danger, Qeq has not been force-fed. However, earlier this month he was for days forcibly given liquids intravenously until his legal team intervened, 972 Magazine reported.

“The practice of his forced treatment is a blatant violation of his human rights, of his bodily integrity, and his individual autonomy," said Sahar Francis, director of Addameer: Prisoners Support and Human Rights Association, a West Bank prisoners advocacy group.

Qeq’s wife Faihaa has also said that her husband believes that prison guards and medical staff are “taking an active part in his torture” by constantly bringing him food and eating their meals in front of him, Alosh said.

Since Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, its military has placed thousands of Palestinians in administrative detention. Over 680 Palestinians are currently under administrative detention, out of the total 6,800 in Israeli prisons, according to Addameer.

For Palestinians in Israeli prisons, hunger strikes have become a common way of drawing public attention to their plight and challenging their treatment or detainment.

"The only way Mohammad al-Qeq feels he is able to challenge his detention, without charge, is with his body,” said Sunjeev Bery, Middle East-North Africa advocacy director at Amnesty International USA. “Under administrative detention, Palestinian detainees have been imprisoned without knowing why they’re being imprisoned or when they might be released.”

Other local and international groups, including Reporters Without Borders and the European Union missions in Jerusalem and Ramallah, have also raised concerns over Israel’s use of administrative detention and called for Qeq’s release.

Israeli authorities, however, have so far refused. The country’s Supreme Court on Wednesday delayed a decision on whether or not to release Qeq until his health could be properly examined — a move slammed by Issa Qaraqe, head of the Palestinian Authority’s Committee for Prisoners’ Affairs, as “careless” and potentially deadly.

Meanwhile, Faihaa said her husband has passed her a message through his lawyers: "If the worst happens that I die, please forgive me. I had no other choice."

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