After more than two years of silence, the Israeli Government has admitted a prisoner it held in detention for "security reasons" – believed to be the Australian Ben Zygier – committed suicide in custody.
Israeli ambassador pursued
RAW VISION: Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem refuses to answer questions about the arrest and death of Australian man Ben Zygier, known as prisoner X.
Amid increasing pressure on the Israeli and Australian Governments to reveal what they knew about the December 2010 death of Mr Zygier in solitary confinement in Ayalon Prison, Israel's Justice Ministry released a statement on Wednesday night announcing that the court's gag order had been partially lifted.
Without naming Mr Zygier or identifying him as an Australian citizen, the statement said: "For security reasons, the prisoner was held under a pseudonym, but his family was notified of the arrest immediately. The prisoner was held by proxy of an arrest warrant issued by the court. The proceedings were overseen by senior officials in the Justice Ministry and he was duly represented in all the proceedings against him by attorneys Roi Belcher, Moshe Mazor and Boaz Ben-Zur.
"The prisoner's legal rights were observed at all times, according to the law," the statement said.
One of Israel's most prominent human rights lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, told the Israeli news site ynet.com: "I'm the last lawyer who saw him alive. They asked me to see him and a day after that he was gone.
"When I saw him, I saw no signs that he was going to kill himself. He sounded rational and he asked pertinent legal questions that I can't expand on."
The Justice Ministry's statement said the prisoner was found dead in his cell two years ago and that Jude Daphna Blatman Kedrai – president of the Rishon LeZion Magistrate's Court – ordered an inquiry into his death.
Six weeks ago, the investigation ruled the prisoner's death a suicide and the judge recommended that the state pursue a negligence investigation in the matter, Ynet reported.
"National security prevents the release of any other details in this case," the Justice Ministry statement reads. "These aspects of national security have been reviewed by the Central District Court, which decided to impose a comprehensive gag order on the case.
"The order was given at the request of the defence establishment, and was approved by the Justice Ministry."
Human rights groups had long campaigned for details about the circumstances of Prisoner X's arrest, detention and suicide to be made public.
When I saw him, I saw no signs that he was going to kill himself.Avigdor Feldman, lawyer
The Association of Civil Rights In Israel sent a letter on Wednesday to the deputy attorney-general, Shai Nitzan, asking that he allow the disclosure of additional details in the case of Prisoner X, who is widely believed to be Mr Zygier.
"Was this indeed a suicide? Was there negligence in the supervision of the detainee? Has any official body taken responsibility? What steps have been taken to prevent the recurrence of similar events in the future?," the letter from the association's chief legal counsel, Dan Yakir, said.
Israeli ambassador pursued over Prisoner X
RAW VISION: Israeli ambassador Yuval Rotem refuses to answer questions about the arrest and death of Australian man Ben Zygier, known as Prisoner X.
It was of deep concern that "people could disappear and be held in prison in total secrecy and isolation", Mr Yakir told Fairfax Media.
Fairfax Media spoke to Mr Zygier in Israel early 2010 after learning that ASIO was investigating at least three dual Australian-Israeli citizens who had emigrated to Israel in the past decade. ASIO would not comment on the case then or now.
In each case, the men had used the new passports to travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon – all countries that do not recognise Israel and do not allow Israelis to enter. Israel also bans its citizens from travelling to these countries.
"I have never been to any of those countries that you say I have been to," Mr Zygier told Fairfax Media at the time. "I am not involved in any kind of spying."
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