In February 2011, the Deputy Engineer of Gaza’s only electricity plant, Dirar Abu Sisi, travelled to Ukraine, his wife Veronika’s native country, to seek citizenship after Israel’s 2008-09 attack on the Gaza Strip.
The ferocity of that war made him fear for the safety of their six children and he decided to leave the besieged Gaza Strip. Not long after Abu Sisi’s arrival in Ukraine, he disappeared while on a train. His distraught family had no idea what had happened to him.
Israeli Mossad agents collaborating with the Ukrainian authorities had kidnapped the civil engineer, then drugged and shipped him in a coffin to Israeli occupied Palestine.
Only after a suppression order about his abduction was partially lifted did Israel reveal it was holding Abu Sisi in jail.
Abu Sisi was jailed under Israeli charges that he was Hamas’s chief rocket engineer ― allegations that Abu Sisi, his family and Hamas have all denied. Since then, he has languished in solitary confinement for two years without a trial.
Abu Sisi is locked up in isolation in a small cell for 23 hours a day and only allowed out for one hour to stay in a larger room. He is also deprived of contact with his wife and children.
A Palestinian Prisoners Association statement reported that the prison guards carry out night raids on Abu Sisi’s cell and take away his personal belongings.
In the latest such punitive measures, they confiscated a small notebook in which he wrote down his thoughts and feelings. Now, Abu Sisi has nothing left with him in his cell.
After a recent visit Abu Sisi’s lawyer said his client was suffering from health problems, including a heart ailment, hypertension, high cholesterol, anaemia and internal pains in various parts of his body.
The lawyer said the quality and quantity of food had worsened this situation. His lawyer also further stated that solitary confinement had seriously affected Abu Sisi’s psychological health. He said Abu Sisi was finding it difficult to speak, and to remember words.
The European Court on Human Rights, as well as the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), have made it clear that the use of solitary confinement can amount to torture.
Depending on specific circumstances and duration, it may be a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (i.e. constitute torture, inhuman or degrading treatment).
The European Court on Human Rights said that “complete sensory isolation coupled with total isolation, can destroy the personality and constitutes a form of inhuman treatment which cannot be justified by the requirements of security or any other reason”.
The CPT has recommended reforms to limit the use of solitary confinement to exceptional circumstances, and/or securing inmates a higher level of social contact.
Furthermore, the revised European Prison Rules of 2006 have clearly stated that solitary confinement should be an exceptional measure and, when used, should be for as short a time as possible.
Solitary confinement harms the mental health of prisoners who were not previously mentally ill and tends to worsen the mental health of those who were. Prison experts and human rights groups say solitary confinement should not exceed 15 days.
Being held in such conditions any longer should be banned on grounds it amounts to torture.
Allen S Keller, the director of NYU School of Medicine Center for Health and Human Rights, said: “The potentially harmful health consequences of solitary confinement, especially prolonged solitary confinement are clear and well documented.”
Abu Sisi’s lawyer said that after two years of complete isolation, his client's health condition was now very bad and he called for immediate action to improve Abu Sisi's prison situation and save him.
The Wa’ed Society for detainees and ex-detainees said Abu Sisi suffers from several chronic diseases and that his health condition has rapidly deteriorated after his two years in solitary confinement.
The Wa’ed Society called on international human rights groups to intervene to help get him released from isolation and save Abu Sisi’s life.
Abu Sisi is a political prisoner unjustly being held indefinitely in detention without trial. He is held in cruel conditions of solitary confinement, which are clearly a disgraceful abuse of his human rights.
Groups and individuals concerned with upholding human and civil rights and campaigning for justice have an obligation to join in calling for immediate action to release Abu Sisi from solitary confinement, urgently improve his medical care and grant him a fair trial as soon as possible.
The world has a responsibility to speak out against the kidnapping and gross mistreatment of Abu Sisi and other political prisoners held in Israeli jails.