Over 150 well-known personalities from the Arab world have called for the release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails and political prisoners from jails in Arab states, citing the coronavirus pandemic during imprisonment as a "double punishment".
The Arab figures consist of diplomats, journalists, artists, academics, human rights activists and intellectuals, all of whom contributed to the call in a column published yesterday on the French-language political site Orient XXI.
The column called on Israel and the Arab states detaining prisoners of conscience to immediately and unconditionally release them, especially as "amid the pandemic, imprisonment becomes a double punishment."
Among the signatories are Jordanian and Egyptian writers Ibrahim Nasrallah and Ahmed Nagy, the Moroccan, Palestinian-American and Tunisian academics Abdellah Hammoudi, Rashid Khalidi and Yadh Ben Achour, Tunisian composer and oud player Anouar Brahem, and the Lebanese singer Omaima El Khalil. Others, including Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, Lebanese and Egyptian journalists Pierre Abi Saab and Khaled Al-Balshi, Palestinian politicians Hanan Ashrawi and Nabil Shaath, and Palestinian and Tunisian human rights defenders Omar Barghouti and Mokhtar Trifi, were also among the figures.
The column states that although the Israeli occupation and the Arab regimes have responded to previous international calls for prisoner releases and "announced the release of prisoners and carried out some releases, these have not extended to political prisoners."
It also emphasised that there is no actual or significant difference between Palestinian prisoners of Israel and political prisoners of the Arab world, calling both a "community of fate". One signatory, the former Palestinian Ambassador to France and to the European Union, Leila Shahid, stated: "The fight for freedom, citizenship and human rights has no nationality. In Palestine, in Morocco or in Egypt, it's the same fight and we must all be united."
An example used in this regard was Ramy Shaath, the coordinator of the Egyptian branch of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli occupation and products exploited by it. For almost a year, Shaath has been imprisoned by the Egyptian authorities, making him one of the prisoners of conscience the column demands to be released.
Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Hafidha Chekir, insisted: "The right of peoples to self-determination is an integral part of international human rights law and can suffer neither derogation nor alienation." Supporting this human right and the release of prisoners who practiced it, he said, "is a noble and legitimate cause," urging for "the immediate and unconditional release of Ramy as well as of all Palestinian prisoners and political detainees in the Arab region."
During the current crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, a number of states in the Middle East – such as Egypt, Iran and Syria – have released thousands of prisoners over concerns of the respiratory virus spreading through prisons. These measures, however, have usually allowed the release of those who are near the end of their term and have not included prisoners detained for political reasons.