With the risk of COVID-19 spreading in prisons and detention centers in the Gaza Strip, the local Palestinian authorities have implemented precautionary measures, including a temporary ban on in-person visitation. Al Mezan is in touch Gaza’s Internal Security Agency in order to ensure that human rights norms and obligations are upheld for prisoners and detainees during the implementation of restrictions, and calls on the authorities to increase access to sanitation materials and health, and increase release of vulnerable and low-risk incarcerated persons.
On 7 April 2020, Al Mezan contacted the administration at Gaza’s Internal Security Agency to ensure that restrictive measures imposed on prisoners and detainees meet human rights standards. While the temporary ban on in-person visits is considered a proportionate measure to protect against the spread of COVID-19, alternative means of communication must be provided for prisoners and detainees, in particular to contact family members and lawyers, for free. Al Mezan suggests that prepaid cell phones are made available and that video and online communication be permitted. The authorities must simultaneously take measures to ensure that these new lines of communication are secure and protected against unlawful interference.
The authorities have released over 500 non-violent prisoners in Gaza, most of whom have served the majority of their sentences, in an effort to control the spread of the highly contagious coronavirus. Al Mezan urges the authorities to continue examining ways to release incarcerated persons who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, including older persons and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders.
The prisons and detention centers must also be kept clean, sanitation materials must be made available, and every prisoner and detainee must have access to adequate healthcare. Fundamentally, procedural safeguards and fair trial rights must be implemented according to international standards.
Al Mezan continues to monitor the conditions of prisoners and detainees in places of detention in Gaza.