Last week, Muhammad Sa’id al-Zaqzouq was declared dead at Nasser Medical Centre in Khan Younis, after he had been detained at the police station in al-Qarara village for less than one day. Muhammad was married with three children. The family members hold al-Qarara police officers responsible for Muhammad’s death. On the other side, al-Qarara police officers reported that Muhammad had committed suicide while he was held in solitary confinement, and that they immediately took Muhammad to the hospital when they realised that the man was in grave danger.
Sa'id 'Abd-al-Muttaleb al-Zaqzouq (60 years old)
On 16 October, at approximately 9:00 am, two men in civilian clothing arrived at the home of Sa'id 'Abd-al-Muttaleb al-Zaqzouq, in al-Qarara village, Khan Younis governorate. The two men requested to talk to Sa’id’s son, Muhammad (27 years old), and introduced themselves as officers of the General Investigation Department of the Gaza Ministry of Interior but did not show any identification. After talking to the officers, Muhammad was arrested without any summon or arrest warrant. The officers informed Sa’id that they were taking his son to al-Qarara police station to question him about a complaint presented against Muhammad by his uncle, Jamal al-Zaqzouq. Ten days before, the two men had a confrontation and Muhammad tried to set his uncle’s car on fire.
At approximately 6:30 pm, Sa’id received a phone call from a man who introduced himself as a police officer from the Khan Younis police station and informed him that his son Muhammad had been transferred to Nasser Medical Centre in Khan Younis in critical condition, after he had attempted suicide by hanging. Sa’id told the man that he had already been informed by someone else working at the same hospital that his son had died. Subsequently, the police officer confirmed Muhammad’s death.
Sa’id arrived at the hospital along with other relatives and asked to see his son, nonetheless, some Palestinian police officers at the hospital refused their request, began insulting Muhammad’s relatives and beat one of them. Sa’id and the others were prevented from seeing Muhammad until one and a half hours later, when officers from the police and the Ministry of Interior arrived at the hospital to investigate the circumstances of Muhammad’s death. Two field researchers, from Al-Haq and Al-Dameer respectively, also arrived at the hospital. At that point, Sa’id, the other relatives and the field researchers were allowed to see Muhammad’s body. When Sa’id saw his son’s corpse, he did not notice particular marks around his neck which would reveal the strangulation alleged by the policeman.
Afterwards, the body was transferred to al-Shifa’ Hospital in Gaza for the autopsy in order to ascertain the cause of Muhammad’s death. The forensic doctor finally informed Sa’id that he would write the autopsy report, and submit it to the Palestinian Attorney General of the Gaza Strip. The father then took Muhammad’s body back to his home for the funeral. (Al-Haq Affidavit No. 7729/2012)
Al-Haq field researchers were able to gather additional information from an eyewitness, Mahmoud Yousef Zu'rob (21 years old), who was also held in custody at the Khan Younis police station, where Muhammad was transferred after being taken to al-Qarara police station, on 16 October. Muhammad Zar’ab reported that he saw Muhammad al-Zaqzouq shouting at and insulting the officers while arriving at the police headquarters. The policemen then forced him into the same jail where the eyewitness was held.
Later the same day, Mahmoud was allowed to leave the cell to prepare meals for the other detainees; at that point, he saw Muhammad al-Zaqzouq outside the interrogation room, in the corridor in his underwear, soiling the wall with his excrement. The policemen stopped him and poured water on the detainee. Subsequently, the eyewitness saw the police officers repeatedly whipping the soles of Muhammad’s feet with plastic sticks (using a torture technique called ‘falaka’). Afterwards, the soldiers handcuffed him and forced him into the solitary confinement cell. The eyewitness then heard Muhammad screaming in the cell and saying that he would kill himself if they kept him in that cell. The police officers then removed the shackles from his hands and feet but left the detainee in the same cell. Muhammad al-Zaqzouq continued screaming, demanding to be taken out of the cell and saying that he was suffocating. Mahmoud heard Muhammad shouting until late in the afternoon, when he was ordered to distribute dinner among the detainees. When the eyewitness approached the solitary confinement cell, he saw, through the little window on the door, that a torn blanket was tied from the window’s cell to Muhammad’s neck. Immediately, the eyewitness informed the policemen who headed towards the cell. When they cut the blanket, Muhammad fell to the ground without moving. One of the detainees, who is as a nurse, was brought to the cell and tried to rescue Muhammad but without success. Ten minutes later, an ambulance transferred the unconscious man to the Nasser Medical Centre.
A medical report from Nasser Medical Centre in Khan Younis revealed that Muhammad arrived at the hospital at 7:30 pm unconscious, with no pulse and with a bruise on the front of his neck. Medical personnel tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation for 30 minutes without results. According to the medical accounts, it had been reported that Muhammad had attempted suicide. Doctors declared Muhammad deceased at 8:30 pm the same day.
More than a week after the incident, investigations have still not shed any light on the circumstances leading to Muhammad’s death. The family has not received the autopsy report, which could clarify important aspects of this case. Last year, Al-Haq reported a similar case of a detainee, ‘Adel Salah Rezeq (52 years old), dying of unknown causes under the Gaza authority.
Al-Haq expresses its regret at Muhammad’s death and grave concern at the arbitrary arrest and inhuman treatment inflicted on the detainee. As human rights defenders, we strongly condemn the use of the ‘falaka’ – a technique which amounts to torture. The use of such techniques is especially egregious when the detainee was clearly in a severe state of mental distress. Al-Haq urges the Palestinian Attorney General, police officers, and all the authorities of the Gaza government to strive to conduct a proper and thorough investigation and punish anyone responsible, if found guilty. Al-Haq demands that any form of arbitrary arrest and detention, ill-treatment and torture of detainees ceases immediately and that persons deprived of liberty be treated in a manner consistent with international law.
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