MPPM calls on the Government of Portugal to pressure Israel to release Mahmoud Nawajaa

MPPM addressed the following message to the Government of Portugal:

Your Excellency the Prime Minister

Your Excellency the Minister for Foreign Affairs

MPPM – Movement for the Rights of the Palestinian People and for Peace in the Middle East – calls on the Government of Portugal to, directly and through the community instances, in the name of the values and principles that Portugal and the European Union defend, and considering the existence of precedents in similar situations, put pressure on the Israeli government to immediately and unconditionally release Palestinian human rights defender Mahmoud Nawajaa, whose detention is solely due to the exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and association, being, therefore a prisoner of conscience.

On July 30, at 3:30 am, Israeli occupation forces arrested the General Coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, Mahmoud Nawajaa, at his home near Ramallah, in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). They broke into his house, blindfolded and handcuffed him, taking him away from his wife and three small children.

On August 2, an Israeli military court granted a 15-day extension of the detention of Mahmoud Nawajaa for questioning. Following an appeal, on August 4, the court reduced the detention extension to eight days, but on August 9 it extended it again for eight days.

According to reports from Palestinian human rights organizations, Mahmoud Nawajaa has not yet had the right to the assistance of a lawyer.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the largest coalition of Palestinian civil society, leads the global and peaceful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement for freedom, justice and equality. The BDS is largely inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement and the Civil Rights movement in the United States.

Nawajaa, 34, has a Master's degree in International Relations and is a young and committed Palestinian human rights advocate who has worked tirelessly to energize grassroots organizations in the OPT. He has devoted years to strengthening the BDS movement against Israel until it fulfills its obligations under international law and respects Palestinian human rights.

Mahmoud's arrest comes at a time when Palestinian civil society is calling for effective accountability measures by the international community, including the EU, to prevent Israel's planned de jure annexation of 30% of the occupied West Bank, including illegal Israeli settlements and parts of the Jordan Valley, and prevent de facto annexation and ongoing apartheid in Israel.

On the day of his arrest, Nawajaa, who is a resident of the occupied West Bank, was forcibly transferred to Jalameh prison in Israel, where he is currently being held. This transfer constitutes an act of illegal deportation, a serious violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (Articles 49 and 147), and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (Article 8).

Mahmoud Nawajaa is far from being the only Palestinian subject to arbitrary arrest and detention by the Israeli authorities. For alleged offences against its “security”, Israel is currently holding in its prisons some 4,700 Palestinians, including minors, hundreds of whom are under administrative detention without any charge. In the current circumstances, with the spread of the COVID 19 virus, mass detention exacerbates the risks to the health and safety of all detainees, contributing to the common culture of torture and degrading and inhumane treatment of Palestinians in Israeli prisons.

In the face of the COVID crisis, the Israeli authorities also ignored UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet's call to all governments to release “all persons detained without sufficient legal basis”, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting opinions.

The arrests by Israel of human rights defenders, such as Mahmoud, are largely the result of the failure of world powers, especially the EU, to implement the effective accountability measures at their disposal to end Israel's impunity and ensure its respect for IHL and Palestinian human rights.

As the EU has pledged to support and protect human rights defenders in third countries, in accordance with its Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, and in order to allow them to operate freely, it must act now to ensure the immediate release of Mahmoud Nawajaa by Israel.

Furthermore, the report on EU policies on Human Rights Defenders (2010) states that the EU “should clearly indicate the appropriate sanctions that can be applied to third countries that perpetrate serious violations of human rights, and apply them”. This reaffirms the need for an enforceable human rights clause in EU agreements with third States, in order to ensure, inter alia, more coordinated and effective action to protect human rights defenders.

As a leading BDS activist, Mahmoud Nawajaa is undoubtedly a human rights defender as defined in the EU Guidelines: Mahmoud has been promoting universally recognized human rights, in particular the rights to self-determination, non-discrimination and equality, as well as the right to return to one's own country, through strictly non-violent and anti-racist BDS campaigns.

The European Court of Human Rights has confirmed that advocacy for BDS falls within the right to freedom of expression protected by the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU has pledged to protect BDS actions on the territory of EU member states in accordance with the freedoms of expression and association in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

In light of the above, we call on the Government of Portugal to, directly or through its representation in the European Union:

1. Take all measures at its disposal to secure the immediate release by Israel of Palestinian human rights defender Mahmoud Nawajaa.

2. Publicly condemn Israel for its detention of Palestinian human rights defenders such as Nawajaa, and demand Israel's respect for their right to operate freely.

Yours faithfully

Lisbon, August 11, 2020

The National Directorate of MPPM

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