Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Israel Eases Gag Order on Media in Case of 'Prisoner X' ; 2010 Death of Australian in Secured Cell Brings Calls for Inquiries in 2 Nations

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Israel Eases Gag Order on Media in Case of 'Prisoner X' ; 2010 Death of Australian in Secured Cell Brings Calls for Inquiries in 2 Nations

Article excerpt

Australian and Israeli officials demanded to know more about the circumstances under which a 34-year-old Australian man was found hanged in 2010 in a top-security prison cell in Israel.

The Australian foreign minister on Wednesday ordered an investigation into his government's handling of the 2010 detention and death of an Australian immigrant to Israel who was known as Prisoner X and may have been a spy, as Israel partially lifted a gag order that had prevented local journalists from reporting about the case.

An Australian news station reported Tuesday that Prisoner X was Ben Zygier -- known in Israel as Ben Alon -- a 34-year-old father of two who had been in Israel for a decade before he was found hanged in a top-security prison cell where he apparently had been held secretly and denied visitors and a lawyer.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade originally said in a statement early Wednesday that its embassy in Tel Aviv was unaware of Mr. Zygier's situation until his family requested repatriation of his remains.

But a few hours later, another statement acknowledged that "some officers of the department were made aware" of his imprisonment beforehand "by another Australian agency." The inquiry is into "the consular handling of this case," according to the statement, with a preliminary report expected Thursday.

In Israel, members of Parliament and others called for inquiries into the case and the extraordinary secrecy surrounding it, including a court order that had forced the removal of news items from Israeli Web sites in 2010 and again on Tuesday.

Israeli journalists and politicians had protested that the media blackout was unreasonable in the Internet age, as the Australian news report circulated on social media, and on Wednesday the order was modified to allow local publication of articles based on foreign reports.

Israeli Web sites quickly filled with photographs of Mr. Zygier and his grave in a Jewish cemetery in a Melbourne suburb. …

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