The Power of the Petition

After being detained for 49 days, Samer Allawi, Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Afghanistan, was released on Monday 26th September, receiving a suspended jail sentence and a £900 fine. Allawi was arrested on 9th August upon accusations that he had been an active member of Hamas, Palestine’s largest Islamic Resistance Movement. Hamas is acknowledged as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union, due to the extremist methods used by certain members of the movement, therefore making the accusations against Allawi extremely severe and damaging. Despite Allawi admitting to having past links to Hamas, Allawi’s lawyer, Salim Waqim, has claimed that this admission was only given to avoid physical harm during his time in an Israeli military prison, raising human rights concerns over the treatment of Palestinian prisoners in Israel.

Allawi was arrested by the General Security Service (GSS), also known as the Shin Bet, when attempting to cross the border in the West Bank, after visiting his family. He was accused of having had meetings with several members of Hamas, as well as having agreed to work for the organisation. Despite Allawi admitting to certain aspects of the allegations against him, Al-Jazeera have denied this, with a spokesman claiming: “Mr Allawi’s detention has been completely baseless.”

On his personal blog for +972mag, Yossi Gurvitz discusses the lack of justice in Samer Allawi’s case and the mistreatment he faced during his detention:

“The usual methods were used: Unreasonably long interrogation sessions, up to 20 hours in length, during which Allawi was cuffed to the chair (which may well be considered to be a form of sleep deprivation), the threat of taking hostages (arresting family members), etc.”

While it is well-known that methods of torture are commonplace in many prisons in the Middle East, when attempting to extract information from prisoners, Allawi’s position as an important journalist allowed these to be brought to light on a much wider scale. Undoubtedly livid at his arrest, Al-Jazeera began a “Free Samer Allawi” campaign demanding Allawi’s release, triggering other social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and, most notably, UFree, to begin their own campaigns. UFree posted a model letter for visitors of the page to fill in and send to human rights organisations: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. They also documented a campaign by journalists, who held a rally outside the United Nations office in Gaza City, where they too demanded that Allawi be released immediately. It is unknown exactly how influential these campaigns were on Allawi’s release but as one journalist tweeted:

@jilliancyork Note that Israel charged, sentenced, and released Samer Allawi just one day after Human Rights Watch demanded his release.”

Although the campaign for Samer Allawi’s release was successful, there are still thousands of Palestinian prisoners who are being unlawfully detained in Israeli prisons and who are facing physical and mental torture on a regular basis. It is impossible to know whether these kind of methods will ever be eliminated but let’s hope, for the sake of humanity, that one day they will.

By Nadia Younes

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