UN experts urge Israel to free Ahmad Manasra

GENEVA (14 July 2022) - UN human rights experts* today urged the Government of Israel to immediately release Ahmad Manasra, a 20-year-old Palestinian detained in Israeli prisons since he was 14 years old, while suffering serious mental health conditions.

“Ahmad’s imprisonment for almost six years has deprived him of childhood, family environment, protection, and all the rights he should have been guaranteed as a child,” the experts said.

“This case is haunting in many respects and his continuous detention, despite his deteriorating mental conditions, is a stain on all of us as part of the international human rights community”.

In 2015, then 13-year-old Ahmad Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin were accused of stabbing two Israelis in the Pisgat Ze’ev settlement in the occupied West Bank. His cousin was shot dead at the scene, whereas Ahmad was hit by a car and sustained serious head injuries while an Israeli crowd jeered at him. Following his arrest, video footage, widely circulated on media, showed young, distressed Ahmad being harshly treated and severely interrogated without the presence of his parents or legal representative.

“The gut-wrenching scenes of a child with broken bones laying on the ground under a barrage of insults and threats shouted by armed adults in a foreign language; of that very same boy being spoon-fed by unfamiliar hands while chained to a hospital bed and then violently interrogated in breach of human rights norms and principles concerning arrest and detention of a child, continue to haunt our conscience,” the experts said.

“To Ahmad we say, we regret we failed to protect you”.

After he had turned 14 years old in 2016, Ahmad was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 12 years in prison, although the law at the time when the crime was allegedly committed in 2015 did not permit imprisonment of minors under the age of 14. The sentence was later reduced to nine and a half years. His mental condition has, reportedly, steadily deteriorated, possibly as a result of the harsh conditions of his detention, the recurrent instances of solitary confinement and, more tragically, the solitude, away from his family.

“Ahmad’s arrest and detention happened over a span of time which is absolutely critical for the emotional, intellectual and social development of a child. In all actions concerning children, the best interest of the child must be a primary consideration,” the experts said. “In violation of this fundamental principle, the overriding consideration in this case appeared to be Israel’s focus on containing whoever they label as terrorism threats”, they said.

Despite Ahmad’s aggravated mental conditions, Israeli authorities have rejected requests by Ahmad’s lawyers for his early release. Israeli authorities maintain that the offence Ahmad was sentenced for constitutes an act of terror, making him ineligible for early release pursuant to the Counter-Terrorism Law. However, this Law only came into effect in November 2016, and amendments to the Counter-Terrorism Law that barred early release for those convicted of serious crimes involving terrorist acts were introduced in December 2018, long after Ahmad was convicted of attempted murder in May 2016.

“As repeatedly reiterated to Israeli authorities, its ill-defined and overly broad Counter-Terrorism Law has led to far too many instances of arbitrariness and abuse. Ahmad’s case is yet another morally and legally unjustifiable consequence of the Law. Its retroactive application to Ahmad, which resulted in the denial of his early release, is illegal, disproportionate and discriminatory,” the experts said.

Medical reports finding that Ahmad suffers from schizophrenia confirmed the devastating impact of the harsh treatment he was subject to at a young age. “Solitary confinement of a child for such a prolonged period may amount to torture, prohibited in all circumstances under international human rights law,” said the experts. “Ahmad must urgently receive the necessary mental health care and counselling, especially in light of reports he has repeatedly put himself at risk of self-harm.”

“Ahmad’s case provides clear evidence of Israel’s deliberate practices of subjecting Palestinians, including children, to arbitrary detention, torture and inhumane treatment, often disguised as a ‘legitimate’ counter-terrorism response,” said the experts. The case also raises serious concerns of possible violations of international fair trial standards applicable to children, including the prohibition of inducing through coercion a child to a confession or self-incriminatory testimony. “These inhumane practices must end: far too many have already borne the brunt of an unacceptable instrumentalisation of legal tools as means to subjugate the protected local population and force them to accept an occupation that remains illegitimate and illegal”.

The experts criticised Ahmad’s very detention in Israeli prisons, in violation of international humanitarian law. “Israel, as the occupying power, is prohibited from detaining protected persons accused of offences in its own territory,” they said. “This practice violates article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and may also amount to forcible transfer, which constitutes a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention and is also recognised as a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”

“We appeal to Israel to urgently release Ahmad, allow him to return to his family and seek psychological counselling and support,” the experts said.

“It is also about time that the pervasive system of arrest and detention put in place by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, which currently holds 4,700 Palestinians including 170 children and 640 in administrative detention, receives international attention as part and parcel of the systemic and widespread oppressive regime Israel has imposed over the Palestinians during 55 years of military occupation.”

The experts have been in contact with the Israeli Government to raise concerns about Ahmad’s case.


*The experts: Ms. Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms E. Tendayi Achiume, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; and Ms. Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to health