Monday, July 19, 1999
Longest-serving administrative detainee goes free
By Moshe Reinfeld and Gideon Alon, Ha'aretz Correspondents
The IDF agreed yesterday to release Osama Barham, the longest-held administrative detainee in the territories, after almost six years in prison. Barham was detained in November 1993 on suspicion of belonging to the outlawed Islamic Jihad group. Minister of Justice Yossi Beilin expressed his satisfaction at Barham's release.
The agreement on his release was attained just moments before the High Court of Justice was to hear a petition filed in Barham's name. Attorney Michael Blass, representing the IDF, had Barham sign an agreement concerning his release in the presence of his attorney, Tamar Peleg-Sarik of the Center for the Defense of the Individual.
According to the agreement, Barham will report to the police station nearest to his home, which is in the village of Ramin in the Tulkarm district, once every two weeks for the coming year. He will also deposit a bond of NIS 20,000 to guarantee that he keeps to the agreement.
For its part, the IDF committed itself to reconsider shortening this period every three months. The army also agreed to consider requests by Barham to enter Israel to visit Dr. Anat Matar, a lecturer in philosophy at Tel Aviv University with whom he corresponded from his prison cell.
Barham maintains that because of the changed political circumstances, he has abandoned his previously held views and now opposes all forms of violence. Dr. Matar, who visited Barham in prison four times, testified that in her opinion he had indeed relinquished the use of violence. Since his initial detainment, Barham's remand has been extended in military courts 13 times at the request of the Shin Bet security service. In the most recently held military court hearing, the court accepted the Shin Bet's view that Barham was still dangerous.
In his petition to the High Court of Justice, Peleg-Sarik argued that the military court had erred, because its decision could be interpreted to mean that military courts had the right to impose de facto administrative "life sentences." She maintained that if the Shin Bet had not yet come up with the necessary evidence to try Barham, there was no justification in continuing to hold him without trial.
Justice Minister Beilin, who has been a vehement opponent of administrative detention for many years, expressed his satisfaction at the agreement for Barham's release.
"I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that a man held for six years without knowing why has gone free," he said.
He expressed the hope that Israel would be able to maintain its security needs in a manner that would not violate the natural right of all detainees to a fair trial.
"Administrative detention is a stain on Israeli society," Beilin added. "We must put an end the whole matter of administrative detentions. We can come up with responsible laws that will allow the system to arrest suspects in a normal manner, rather than in a manner that is inconsistent with democracy.
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