Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to answer questions over allegations that an Australian citizen committed suicide while being held in solitary confinement in the country's highest-security prison.
The man known as “Prisoner X" was held in conditions of such strict secrecy in Israel's Ayalon Prison that not even the jail's staff knew his name or the crime he was alleged to have committed, the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program said on Tuesday.
It named “Prisoner X” as 34-year-old Ben Zygier and said it appeared the former Melbourne man had been recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad before his disappearance in early 2010. He had moved to Israel 10 years before that, changing his name to Ben Alon and marrying a local woman with whom he had two children, the program said.
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He was allegedly found in his high-security cell in December 2010 and his body flown home to Australia soon after, Foreign Correspondent reported.
Ben Zygier is believed to have been the son of Geoffrey Zygier, the executive director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission and one of the leaders of the Melbourne Jewish Community. He also had identification using a third name, Ben Allen, the program alleged.
The Israeli Government has gone to extreme lengths to suppress the story since news of Prisoner X's arrest first appeared in 2010, with a judge issuing a gag order that prevented any mention of the case, or even the fact that there was a gag order, the ABC reported.
At the time, the revelation that a prisoner was being held in total seclusion in a private wing of Ayalon Prison for an undisclosed crime prompted human rights groups to launch a campaign to force Israel to reveal his identity.
"He is simply a person without a name and without an identity who has been placed in total and utter isolation from the outside world," a prison official was quoted as saying at the time in the Yediot Ahronot before the story disappeared from its website.
Soon after the ABC's story was broadcast last night, Mr Netanyahu's office convened an urgent meeting of the country's senior media editors, the Haaretz newspaper reported.
“The PMO [prime minister's office] asked members during the meeting to co-operate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency," Haaretz said.
All reference to the report on Prisoner X disappeared from Israeli news sites, including Haaretz, shortly after the meeting.
The Prime Minister's spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the issue, which was raised in the parliament during a debate by Ahmed Tibi, the leader of the United Arab List-Ta'al, as well as by Labor politician Nachman Shai and Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On.
In response to Mr Tibi's questions about Israel's treatment of "Prisoner X", Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman replied: "I cannot answer these questions because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into."
When the scant details of the “Prisoner X” story first came to light, Israel's human rights groups were quick to express their concern.
"It is insupportable that, in a democratic country, authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place," the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote in June 2010.
But they, too, appear to be bound by the court's gag order – their spokesman told Fairfax Media overnight that ACRI could not comment on the matter at this time.
Human Rights Watch has also raised the alarm at the secrecy surrounding Mr Zygier's arrest, incarceration and death, warning that Israel was required to notify another country if it takes one of its citizens into detention and if that citizen dies in detention.
It should notify the person promptly of any charges against them, ensure they had access to a lawyer and to someone outside detention, said Human Rights Watch's senior Middle East researcher, Bill van Esveld, who is based in Jerusalem.
“If the allegations are correct and Israel denied knowledge of his detention, then that is a 'disappearance' under international law,” Mr van Esveld said.
He noted that while Palestinian prisoners were regularly detained without charge and often denied access to a lawyer for an unacceptable period of time, it was rare for Israeli prisoners to experience this kind of treatment.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr described the allegations as troubling.
"It's never been raised with me. I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened to Mr Allen and about what their view of it is,” he told the ABC.
"Even if Prisoner X has now been identified, his crime, however, remains a mystery, although it has been widely speculated that it would have involved treachery to warrant such extreme measures."
When approached by Fairfax Media, Senator Carr's spokesman could not comment on the allegation that Mr Zygier was Prisoner X as it was an intelligence matter.
A spokesman for Senator Carr said on Wednesday that the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv was unaware that Mr Zygier was detained in Israel until contacted by his family in 2010 when he died. The family asked for assistance to repatriate his body but did not ask for anything else.
The spokesman said that to his best knowledge, the family had not asked for help since.
The Australian government is now looking at the material raised by Foreign Correspondent to determine whether it warrants further action, such as making a representation to Israel.
"It's common but not universal that countries do let us know [that they have detained an Australian national]," the spokesman said.
The government would need firm information - not just the allegations raised in Tuesday night's program - if it was to talk to Israel.
Greens leader Christine Milne told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday that she would encourage Senator Carr to press the Israeli government about the circumstances surrounding Mr Zygier's detention and death.
She said it was not enough for the Foreign Minister to merely say that he could not do anything because the Zygier family had not requested it.
''It is incredible that an Australian citizen, a dual citizen, is alleged to have been held in the manner that was suggested,'' Senator Milne said.
with Judith Ireland and AAP
Middle East Correspondent Ruth Pollard has reported on the Arab revolutions, the battle against the Islamic State, tensions in the West Bank and Egypt's power struggle. Her job has taken her to Libya, Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Tunisia and beyond and in 2014 she won a Walkley Award for her coverage of the war in Gaza.
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