The UN experts called on Israel to release the former aid worker who has been detained for more than 4 years without a verdict or grant him a fair trial.
Mohammed El-Halabi, the former Gaza director of the World Vision charity, was arrested by Israeli security forces in June 2016 on allegations that he diverted millions of dollars in development funds to armed groups in Gaza, charges he denies, and which audits have not substantiated, the UN group said in a statement on Thursday. They called on Israeli authorities to grant el-Halabi the full rights of a fair trial, or else release him unconditionally.
“What is happening to Mr. el-Halabi bears no relation to the trial standards we expect from democracies, and is part of a pattern where Israel uses secret evidence to indefinitely detain hundreds of Palestinians,” they said.
According to the statement, Israel’s internal security service questioned him for 50 days after his arrest without allowing him access to a lawyer. El-Halabi reported that he was tortured, deprived of sleep, and hung from a ceiling during this time. His lawyer says the Israeli prosecutor repeatedly offered him a plea deal, but he rejected it and maintained his innocence.
The UN group expressed concerns that the prosecution is relying upon confessions allegedly obtained by force while he was denied access to a lawyer, and on testimony from undercover informers.
El-Halabi has attended more than 140 court hearings, all behind closed doors. His lawyer has been prevented from reviewing Israeli prosecution evidence or was given only limited access with secrecy restrictions.
“These fundamentally unfair practices stain the justice system of any state,” the experts said. “We demand that Israel adhere to the requirements of the international rule of law.”
“Comprehensive audits of the financial records by World Vision and by the Australian government, which donated the money, failed to turn up any misappropriation of funds or other wrongdoing, they added.
The UN experts include Michael Lynk, special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Agnès Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Diego García-Sayán, UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.