Palestinian Authority covering up critic’s death, family says

Relatives of Nizar Banat, who died in PA custody, say they have not received the document with the official cause of death.

Women hold up posters depicting late Palestinian human rights activist Nizar Banat in Gaza City days after he died during a violent arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces in Hebron in the occupied West Bank [File: Mohammed Abed/AFP]

The family of a political activist who died in the custody of Palestinian security forces last month has accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) of trying to cover up his death.

Relatives of Nizar Banat, 43, said on Saturday they still have not received a document with an official cause of death, and said the PA has made efforts to settle the matter out of court.

“The behaviour of the Palestinian Authority until this moment is criminal behaviour, covering up a crime,” Ghassan Banat, Nazir’s brother, told reporters.

Nizar Banat was an outspoken critic of the PA who called on Western nations to stop providing aid to the PA due to human rights violations and growing authoritarianism.

In a series of posts and live videos on Facebook, Banat had criticised the authority’s close security coordination with Israel, seen by many Palestinians as betrayal, and its corruption. He also lashed out at President Mahmoud Abbas in April for calling off what would have been the first Palestinian elections in 15 years. Banat was a candidate on an opposition slate.

His family has said that on June 24 security forces stormed into Banat’s bedroom while he was sleeping and beat him, inflicting bloody head wounds before removing him from the house. He died shortly afterwards while in custody.

His death has prompted weeks of protests.  At least six activists were arrested on July 5 by security forces when protesting outside the PA headquarters. Multiple witnesses said the police used pepper spray and beat the protesters with batons.

Some 150 people demonstrated in Ramallah on Saturday evening, holding up posters of Banat and chanting anti-Abbas slogans. The protest was peaceful and there were no reports of violence or arrests.

The PA, seen as a crucial partner of the United States and other Western countries, has formed an investigative committee into Banat’s death. The head of the investigative committee said Banat was subjected to physical violence and his death was “unnatural”.

His brother said that weeks later, the family has heard little from the government.

The PA has not responded to requests for comment.

“Until this moment, we have failed to obtain a death certificate. How can you have a citizen who dies without issuing a death certificate?” Ghassan Banat said.

Accompanied by two family lawyers, the brother rejected what he said were attempts by the authority to send tribal elders to the family in hopes of closing the case and stopping it from reaching the courts.

“This file will not be resolved or closed through elders or tribal ways,” he said. “Nizar’s file is a political assassination and will remain open until justice is achieved, even if it takes 1,000 years.”

The Banat family said they are subjected to daily threats, but said they are not affected and will continue to “demand our right” in seeking accountability for Nizar’s death.

The PA is widely viewed as corrupt and authoritarian, with a recent poll last month showing that support for Abbas, who took power for what was supposed to be a four-year term in 2005, had nosedived.

Abbas has faced mounting pressure after calling off the elections when it appeared that his Fatah party would suffer a crushing defeat to the rival Hamas group.

Last month, Palestinian security forces arrested prominent activist and critic, Issa Amro, after he criticised recent arrests on Facebook.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies