Palestinian parliamentary candidate Nizar Banat was severely beaten in custody, causing his death, his relatives allege. Banat had accused Palestinian leadership of corruption and had condemned a short-lived Covid-19 vaccine exchange with Israel.

Demonstrators stand in front of police during clashes at a protest following the death of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian critic who died after being arrested by Palestinian security forces, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 24, 2021.
Demonstrators stand in front of police during clashes at a protest following the death of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian critic who died after being arrested by Palestinian security forces, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 24, 2021. (Reuters)

A Palestinian activist who died in the custody of President Mahmoud Abbas's security forces took blows to the head, a Palestinian rights group said after conducting an autopsy, adding the wounds indicated "an unnatural death".

According to relatives, Nizar Banat was severely beaten during his arrest by Palestinian security forces in Hebron overnight. 

The PA-appointed governor of the city, located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said Banat had died on Thursday when his health deteriorated following his arrest, without elaborating on the cause.

Banat, 43, was a well-known social activist who had accused the PA of corruption, including over President Mahmoud Abbas' postponement of a long-delayed election in May and a short-lived Covid-19 vaccine exchange with Israel this month.

He had planned to stand for parliament in the election before Abbas postponed it.

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Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, an Abbas appointee, ordered the formation of an investigation committee into Banat's death that he said would include the PA's Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR).

But in a sign of public distrust with the PA inquiry, ICHR said it would lead its own investigation. ICHR conducted an autopsy with the family's permission, and announced its initial findings on Thursday night.

"The autopsy showed injuries represented by bruises and abrasions in many areas of the body, including the head, neck, shoulders, chest, back, and upper and lower extremities, with binding marks on the wrists and rib fractures," the ICHR said.

"The preliminary autopsy results also indicate ... an unnatural death, but determining the principal cause of death, from a clinical point of view, requires waiting for laboratory results from tissue samples," it added in a statement.

A demonstrator holds a picture of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian parliamentary candidate who criticised the Palestinian Authority and died after being arrested by PA security forces, in Ramallah on June 24, 2021.
A demonstrator holds a picture of Nizar Banat, a Palestinian parliamentary candidate who criticised the Palestinian Authority and died after being arrested by PA security forces, in Ramallah on June 24, 2021. (Reuters)

'Why the brutality?'

Hussein Banat, 21, a cousin staying in the same house, told Reuters news agency the family had been woken up by the sound of security forces breaking in through the door and windows. 

The troops immediately started to beat Banat.

"They hit him on his head with iron bars, which they had used to open the windows," he said. "They kept beating him continuously for eight minutes. If you came to arrest him, take him. Why the brutality? And why the violence?"

Another family member who witnessed the arrest said Banat was alive when he was taken away and had screamed as he was beaten.

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No immediate comment from PA

Hebron Governor Jibrin al Bakri said in a statement that Banat's arrest was on the orders of the PA attorney-general.

Officials did not immediately give a reason for the arrest.

As Banat was taken into custody, "his health condition deteriorated, and he was immediately transferred to Hebron's governmental hospital. He was checked by doctors who pronounced him dead," Bakri's statement said. 

Reuters contacted a spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority asking for more details of the arrest but there was no immediate reply.

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'Disturbing'

Meanwhile, the United Nations Middle East peace envoy, Tor Wennesland, said on Twitter he was alarmed and saddened by the death, and called for a transparent investigation.

"The perpetrators must be brought to justice," Wennesland said, offering condolences to Banat's family.

The European Union delegation to the Palestinians said on Twitter it was "shocked and saddened" by the death. A "full, independent and transparent investigation should be conducted immediately," it added.

Lynn Hastings, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator, called the news "disturbing" and also called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

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Banat condemned PA officials as 'mercenaries'

The PA exercises limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, home to 3.1 million Palestinians.

On Monday, Banat, who had 100,000 Facebook followers, condemned PA officials as "mercenaries" over the Covid-19 vaccine exchange deal, which the PA swiftly cancelled.

The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights said it viewed Banat's death with "great severity" and had launched an investigation.

Banat had planned to run for the Palestinian parliament on May 22. Abbas called off that election, citing Israeli controls over Palestinians in East Jerusalem. 

Opponents accuse Abbas of cancelling the election to avoid losing to Hamas rivals.

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Source: Reuters