COVID-19: A Dual Punishment for Palestinian and Arab Prisoners

More than 150 personalities from the Arab world call for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and prisoners of conscience in the Arab world. Among the signatories are the Tunisian and Moroccan academics Yadh Ben Achour and Abdullah Hammoudi, the Jordanian and Egyptian writers Ibrahim Nasrallah and Ahmed Nagy, the Tunisian composer and oud player Anouar Brahem, the Lebanese singer Oumeima El Khalil and Palestinian actor Salah Bakri, the Lebanese and Egyptian journalists Pierre Abi Saab and Khaled Al-Balshi, the Palestinian politicians Hanan Ashrawi and Nabil Shaath, and the Palestinian and Tunisian human rights defenders Omar Barghouti and Mokhtar Trifi.

In this time of quarantine, we have come to appreciate the importance of freedom to humanity, and we are cognizant of the tragedy in losing our freedom of movement, prevented from seeing and embracing our loved ones (and even saying our last farewells). This tragedy is suffered daily by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells, as well as prisoners of conscience in the Arab world. But, unlike the quarantine that we experience, which has no bars or barriers, prison is used as a weapon against men, women, and children whose only fault is the defense of human rights. It is a weapon that the Israeli occupation has used for decades to break the will of Palestinians protecting their inalienable rights, but it has encountered their resilience in the face of occupation and apartheid. It is also the weapon used by corrupt regimes in the Arab world to silence any opposition, even mere criticism.

Amid the pandemic, imprisonment becomes a double punishment: the deprivation of liberty and basic rights, as well as the possibility of becoming infected with the highly contagious coronavirus. Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells and prisoners of conscience in the Arab world live in close quarters in overcrowded cells with minimal health and safety precautions. Throughout the Arab world, from Morocco to Iraq by way of Egypt (perhaps with the exception of Tunisia), thousands of political prisoners are held in conditions that exacerbate the spread of infection.

At the beginning of the year, there were about 5,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli cells, 431 of them in administrative detention (with no charge or sentence); of these, 194 are minors, and 30 are under the age of sixteen. Forty-three are women, and six are members of the Palestinian Legislative Council. A few Palestinian prisoners who were sick have called upon human rights organizations and the free people of the world, declaring: “We demand the implementation of what remains of our rights. We are under the daily threat of disease, yet no tangible or preventive measures have been taken to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and stop the virus from spreading… Do not let us perish in our cell beds without anyone having lifted a single finger to protect us or prevent our death.”

On April 17, 2020, the International Day of Palestinian Prisoners, Palestinian civil society and Palestinian rights organizations launched an urgent appeal for the immediate release of Palestinian prisoners and detainees, especially for the most vulnerable (like those suffering from chronic illnesses), in order to ensure their right to life and safety. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has also called for the protection of Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Ramy Shaath, Egyptian-Palestinian human rights defender and coordinator of the movement for the boycott of lsrael (BDS) in Egypt, symbolizes the community of fate between Palestinian prisoners and political prisoners in the Arab world; ten months after his detention, he remains in the notorious Tora prison. On April 17, 2020, an Egyptian court issued a ruling—in absentia, without the presence of attorneys, and with no justification—that places Shaath and twelve others (including Zyad El-Elaimy, ex-parliamentarian and a prominent actor in the 2011 revolution) on Egypt’s terrorist entities list, curtailing their rights. Civil society organizations and political parties in Egypt have issued a joint statement condemning the inclusion of Zyad El-Elaimy and Ramy Shaath on the “terrorist entities list” and calling on the Egyptian government to immediately release them, to remove their names from the list, to drop all investigations again them, and to stop a series of injustices and violations of their rights. President Abdel-Fattah El Sisi has utilized arrest, detention, and torture to suffocate any dissenting voices, as is evident in the 60,000 political prisoners that rights groups have accounted for in Egyptian prisons.

On Wednesday, March 25, 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for the urgent release of detainees worldwide as a measure to prevent the crisis that coronavirus will cause in overcrowded prisons. Israel has deafened its ears to the call, and its security forces have arrested 2,017 Palestinians between early March and April 3 of this year, including sixteen children. Human rights organizations have also called on Arab governments to immediately and unconditionally release all detained human rights defenders held for the peaceful expression of their opinions. Although some governments have announced the release of prisoners and carried out some releases, these have not extended to political prisoners.

We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails and all political prisoners in the Arab world. We hold the ruling apartheid regime in Palestine and the repressive regimes in the region responsible for the health of these prisoners and the preservation of their inalienable rights to life.


Ahmed Abbas, Research Mathematician & Research Director in Paris, Tunisia/France
Jounaidi Abdeljaoued, Mathematics’s Lecturer, Retired, Trade Unionist & Politician, Tunisia
Hichem Abdessamad, Translator, Founding Member of the “Nachaz” Association, Tunisia
Saddouq Abdessamad, Engineer, Morocco
Pierre Abi-Saab, Journalist, Lebanon
Khaled Abichou, Retired Educator, France
Kamel Abidi, Journalist, Tunisia
Azzedine Akesbi, Economist, Morocco
Najib Akesbi, Economist/Retired University Professor, Morocco
Aziz Al-Assa, Writer/Researcher, Palestine
Houssam Al-Assimi, Yellow Vests’ Activist, France
Torkia Al-Shaybi, Member of the Directors’ Committee of the Tunisian Human Rights League & President of the “Un Million de femmes rurales” Association, Tunisia
Abdellatif Al-Yousfi, Member of the Political Bureau of the Unified Socialist Party (Morocco), Morocco
Mohamed Al-Dahshan, Economist, UK
Tewfik Allal, Trade Unionist, Algeria/France
Lamis Andoni, Journalist, Jordan
Ali Anouzla, Journalist, Morocco
Nejma Aouadi, President of the Tunisian Women’s Association for Research and Development, Tunisia
Sami Aouadi, University Professor/Trade Unionist, Tunisia
Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Executive Committee (PLO), Palestine
Sion Assidon, Citizen and Founding Member of BDS Morocco, Morocco
Essia Atrous, Journalist, Tunisia
Saleh Bakri, Actor, Palestine
Ziad Bakri, Actor, Palestine
Anis Balafrej, Civil Rights’ Activist, Morocco
Omar Barghouti, Co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions Movement (BDS), Palestine
Kamel Barkaoui, University Professor, France
Habib Belhadi, Film Director & Producer, Tunisia
Abdelilah Belkeziz, University Professor, Morocco
Fouad Bellamine, Artist, Morocco
Ayadh Ben Achour, University Professor, Tunisia
Houcine Ben Azzouna, University Professor, Tunisia
Houda Ben Ghachem, University Professor, Tunisia
Fathi Ben Haj Yahia, Educator, Tunisia
Tarek Ben Hiba, Human Rights’ Activist, Tunisia
Ghassan Ben Khelifa, Journalist, Tunisia
Zohra Ben Lakhdar Akrout, Professor of Physics, Faculty of Science in Tunisia, Tunisia
Mustapha Ben Letaief, University Professor, Tunisia
Najib Ben Salem, Professor Emeritus, Tunisia
Hefnaoui Benamar Ghoul, Journalist and Human rights Activist, Algeria _ Bachir BenBarka, Retired University Professor, France
Kenza Benjelloun, Conceptual Artist, Morocco
Farida Benyazid, Film Director, Morocco
Abdelmoughit Benmessaoud Tredano, University Professor, Morocco
Bichr Bennani, Editor, Morocco
Mohamed Bennis, Poet, Morocco
Sihem Bensedr, President of the Truth and Dignity Commission, Tunisia
Abdou Berrada, Journalist, Morocco
Mohammed Berrada, Writer, Morocco
Heba Beydoun, Political Consultant, Palestine
Kais Blaiech, Lawyer/Student, Tunisia
Mokhtar Blaiech, Lawyer, Tunisia
Mohamed Ali Boughdiri, Secretary General of the Tunisian General Labour Union, Tunisia
Mohamed Larbi Bouguerra, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Sciences in Tunis, Tunisia/France
Nadir Bouhmouch, Director, Amazigh Land
Anouar Brahem, Composer & Oud Instrumentalist, Tunisia
Mustapha Brahma, National Secretary of The Democratic Voice, Morocco
Omar Brouksy, University Professor/Journalist, Morocco
Nahla Chahal, Editor in Chief of Assafir Al Arabi, Lebanon
Taoufik Chamari, Civil Society Activist, Tunisia
Khemayyes Chammari, Former Ambassador, Tunisia
Houcine Chebli, Retired Mathematics Professor, Tunisia
Hafidha Chekir, Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, Tunisia
Mouhieddine Cherbib, Human Rights’ Activist, Tunisia
Fatma Cherif, Film Director, Tunisia
Alya Cherif Chammari, Lawyer in the Court of Cassation, Tunisia
Driss Chouika, Theatre Director & Producer, Morocco
Larbi Chouikha, University Professor, Tunisia
Saad Chraibi, Film Director, Morocco
Mohamed Dalbah, Writer/Journalist, USA
Majdouline Darwish, Civil servant, Lebanon
Faycal El Ghoul, Retired University Professor, Tunisia
Montaser El Idrissi, Graphic Designer and Researcher, Morocco
Basma El-Husseiny, Cultural Director, Egypt
Oumaima El-Khalil, Singer, Lebanon
Hossam El-Wahidi, Political Advisor, Palestine
Khaled Elbalshy, Journalist, Egypt
Mohamed Lakhdar Ellala, President of the “Tunisians in France” Association, France
Dirar Elyyan, Associate Vice President of Palestine Technical University (Kadoorie), Palestine
Mohamed Ennaji, Writer, Morocco
Noura Erakat, University Professor, USA
Zeyneb Farhat, Cultural Activist, Tunisia
Hani Faris, Professor of Political Science, Canada
Wahid Ferchichi, University Professor, Tunisia
Claudette Ferjani, Retiree, Social and Intellectual Studies Association, Tunisia/France
Mohamed Cherif Ferjani, Professor Emeritus, University of Lyon II, President of the Higher Scientific Council at Timbuktu Institute, African Centre for Peace Studies, France/Tunisia
Khadija Finan, University Professor, France
Ibrahim Fraihat, University Professor, Palestine
Sahar Francis, Lawyer, Palestine
Ahmad Al-Galai, Member of the Arab Institute for Human Rights, Tunisia
Amel Garami, University Professor, Tunisia
Raoudha Gharbi, Human Rights Activist, Tunisia
Alain Gresh, Journalist, France
Yousef Habache, Journalist/Human Rights’ Activist, Palestine/France
Sofia Hadi, Actress, Morocco
Elaine Hagopian, Ph.D, Professor Emerita of Sociology, Simmons University, USA
Nisreen Haj Ahmad, Activist, Jordan
Abdellah Hammoudi, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University, Morocco
Faleh Hammoudi, Trade Unionist/Human Rights’ Advocate, Algeria
Hamza Hamouchene, Researcher/Activist, International Institute, Algeria/UK
Maher Hanin, Sociologist and Political Activist, The Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Tunisia
Haitham Hasan, Chief of the General Surgery Department at Makassed Hospital, Palestine
Abderrahman Hedhili, President of the Tunisian Forum for Economic and Social Rights, Tunisia
Leila Hilal, Senior fellow for the International Security Program and the former director of the Middle East Task Force at New America, USA
Yamila Hussein, Education Leader, USA
Samah Idris, Editor in Chief of Al Adaab Magazine, Lebanon
Gameela Ismail, Politician/Journalist, Egypt
Abderrahim Jamai, Lawyer in Rabat, Former Chief of the Lawyers’ Syndicate and Former President of the Bar Association of Morocco, Morocco
Mahmoud Jemni, Director, Tunisia
Kamel Jendoubi, Honorary President of EuroMed Rights, Tunisia
Mohamed Ali Jendoubi, University Professor of Mathematics, Tunisia
ElHabib Kamal, Human Rights’ Activist, Morocco
Afifa Karake, Highschool Educator, Lebanon
Ali Kazak, Former Ambassador and General Director of “Palestine Publications”, Australia
Rajae Kessab, Political Activist, Trade Unionist/Parliamentarian, Consultative Council
Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University
Abdelmoumen Khalil, General Secretary of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH), Algeria
Bassem Khalil Al-Wazir, Activist, Palestine
Suhad Khatib, Artist, Palestine
Cherifa Kheddar, President of “Our Algeria” Association, supporting victims of terrorism, Algeria
Mohamed Khenissi, Former Political Prisoner and President of “Nachaz” Association, Tunisia
Sadri Khiari, Artist, Tunisia
Souad Labbize, Writer/Translator, France
Nabyl Lahlou, Writer/Theatre and Film Director, Morocco
Moulim Laroussi, Writer, Morocco
Chokri Latif, Writer, President of the Tunisian Coalition Against Capital Punishment, Tunisia
Ali Louati, Writer, Tunisia
Tarek Loubani, Physician, Canada
Bahija Lyoubi, Film Producer, Morocco
Mohamed Maali, Journalist/Translator, Tunis Center for Press Freedom, Tunisian Coalition Against the Death Penalty (CTCPM), Tunisia
Ali Maarouf, Member of the Palestinian Higher Council for Health, Member of the Palestinian Central Council and President of the Arab-German Medical Association, Germany
Fouad Maghrabi, Professor Emeritus of Political Science, USA
Rachid Maalaoui, President of the SNAPAP Union & CGATA, Algeria
Saloua Mani Aouadi, University Professor, Tunisia
Linda Mansour, Lawyer, USA
Hasna Marsit, Member of Parliament, Founder & President of the “Voice of Nefzaoua” Association, Tunisia
Ali Mili, University Professor, Tunisia
El-Khansa Mkada-Zghidi, University Professor & Researcher, Tunisia
Maati Monjib, University Professor, President of Freedom Now
Jamel Msallem, President of the Tunisian Human Rights League, Tunisia
Amer Muhammad, Sudanese Refugee, France
Naous Nadine, Director, Lebanon
Tamer Nafar, Rap Artist, Lydda
Ahmed Nagy, Writer, Egypt
Ibrahim Nasrallah, Writer, Jordan
Abdelaziz Nouaydi, Lawyer, Morocco
Osama Qasem, Activist, Jordan
Abderrahim Rabea, Member of the SNAPAP Union & CGATA, Algeria
Omar Radi, Journalist, Morocco
Roshdi Rashed, Emeritus Director of Research
Habib Rejeb, Physician, Tunisia
Abdul Amir Rikabi, Writer, Iraq
Massoud Romdhani, Human Rights’ Activist, Tunisia
Khadija Riyadhi, Human Rights’ Activist, Morocco
Walid Salem, Deanship of Scientific Research at Al Quds University, Palestine
Said Salhi, Vice President of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights, Algeria
Mohamed Sammouni, Journalist/Sociology Researcher, Morocco
Youssef Seddik, Writer/Philosopher, Tunisia
Nabil Ali Shaath, Advisor to the President of Palestine, Palestine
Leila Shahid, Former Ambassador, Palestine
Taoufiq Tahani, Mathematics Professor, France
Alaa Talbi, History Researcher, Tunisia
Bassem Trifi, Lawyer and Human rights Activist, Tunisia
Mokhtar Trifi, Honorary President of the Tunisian Human Rights League and Vice President of the World Organisation Against Torture, Tunisia
Karem Yehia, Journalist/Writer, Egypt
Dalal Yassin, Human and Refugee Rights’ Author & Writer, USA
Hatem Zaag, Mathematics’ Research Director, Tunisia/France
Mohamed Zeidan, Former Director of the Arab Foundation for Human Rights, Nazareth