Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Palestinian Dissident Free, but Rights Abuses Still Pervade

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

One Palestinian Dissident Free, but Rights Abuses Still Pervade

Article excerpt

For 17 days, Eyad Sarraj sat in a jail cell in Gaza hardly bigger than the man himself. He was alone, but not forgotten.

He had been sharply critical of the rule of Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority over the West Bank and Gaza - the newly Arab controlled areas of Israel. During Dr. Sarraj's captivity, calls for his release from human rights groups and diplomats grew into a chorus of concern.

Sarraj was released Wednesday. Appearing subdued and a bit reticent, he claimed he had been beaten, and said in the future he would use language to criticize the government of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that is "not too confrontational."

But Sarraj's case illustrates the absence of human rights - including due process and freedom of expression - as well as the growing international concern about Mr. Arafat's new rule of a budding Palestinian entity.

"The concern does go beyond Dr. Sarraj," an American embassy official said. "It's an ongoing concern. I would assume that other cases will be monitored."

Few expected Arafat's transition from a terror-supporting nationalist to peacemaker and local governor to be smooth. And Arafat has been under intense pressure by Israelis to maintain order in the self-rule territories and not allow terrorists to proliferate. But for many, Arafat's rule has been downright harsh.

Amnesty International's report for 1995, released last week, describes the Authority's use of torture, detention without trial, and extrajudicial murder throughout the year. The Authority's security forces detained more than 1,000 Palestinians on political grounds, the report said.

But there are signs that judges within the Palestinian Authority will increasingly try to use their courts to overrule extrajudicial political arrests and detentions.

On the same day as Sarraj's release, the PA's court of appeals in Ramallah ordered Arafat to explain the jailing of 10 students being held without charges.

Raji Sourani, Sarraj's lawyer, wants his client's release to set a precedent for others who are regularly jailed without being charged. "I hope that what has happened with Dr. Sarraj applied to hundreds of Islamic Jihad and Hamas activists who are still in jail," he said. …

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