UN experts today urged Israeli authorities to reverse the conviction of an imprisoned Palestinian aid worker Mohammed El-Halabi for alleged terrorism-related charges and ensure his immediate release.
“Mr. El-Halabi’s conviction and 12-year prison sentence are based on deeply flawed proceedings and egregious violations of the right to a fair trial, including the lack of evidence against him presented in open court, the extensive use of secret evidence, closed-door hearings, restricted communication with his lawyer, severe restrictions on the lawyer for the preparation of his defense, and the failure to try him without undue delay,” the experts said.
“By convicting and imprisoning Mr. El-Halabi, Israel has not achieved its purported aim of deterring any act of terrorism,” said the experts. “Instead, by this act, Israel is violating international law and aggravating the coercive environment for Palestinians under occupation, by using ‘counter-terrorism’ legislation to silence, penalize and punish Palestinians who engage in legitimate human rights and humanitarian work.”
El-Halabi, the former program director of World Vision’s Gaza office, was arrested in June 2016 by Israel’s Shin Bet security service after being accused of diverting millions of dollars in humanitarian funds to armed groups in Gaza. During his pretrial detention that spanned six years, he was reportedly subject to solitary confinement, alleged ill-treatment that may amount to torture and coercion to provide a confession. He was severely beaten, causing loss of hearing in one ear. El Halabi had reportedly repeatedly refused plea bargains offered by the prosecution. On 15 June 2022, El-Halabi, was convicted of 13 counts of terrorism-related charges, including membership in a terrorist organization and diverting humanitarian funds to finance terrorist activities. The prosecution did not present any evidence to substantiate charges against El Halabi. Earlier an investigation by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and a forensic audit ordered by World Vision found no evidence that he had diverted any charity funds. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison on 30 August 2022.
His appeal hearings have been repeatedly postponed after Israeli authorities refused to provide access to the files to enable preparation for the appeal process.
“Mr. El-Halabi’s prolonged pretrial detention and repeated postponements of his appeal hearings demonstrate blatant disregard for the right to a fair trial, which explicitly guarantees that the accused be tried and heard without undue delays, at all stages of criminal proceedings,” the experts said.
“Such manifestly unfair proceedings may render his detention arbitrary under international human rights law. He should be released immediately,” they said.
“We urge Israeli authorities to uphold Mr. El-Halabi’s right to a fair trial, including the right to have one’s conviction and sentence reviewed by a higher court expeditiously,” the experts said. “Should Mr. El-Halabi be acquitted of the charges, he should be compensated for wrongful punishment and the physical and psychological abuses he has suffered in detention.”
The experts previously raised concerns with the Government of Israel regarding Mohammed El-Halabi’s case, in 2020 and 2022. There has been no response to these communications from Israeli authorities to date.
The UN experts included: Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Ashwini. K.P. Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; and Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.