GAZA CITY -- Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are living under a criminal justice system that violates their human rights by using torture, arbitrary arrests and warrantless searches, according to a report released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch.
In a 43-page report, the international watchdog group blames the injustices on Hamas, the militant Palestinian group that controls the Gaza Strip. Officials of the group warned that if Hamas, which Israel and the U.S. label a terrorist organization, does not reform its justice system, it could face popular revolts similar to those that have swept across Egypt, Libya and Syria.
"After five years of Hamas rule in Gaza, its criminal justice system reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees' rights, and grants impunity to abusive security services," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the group. "Hamas should stop the kinds of abuses that Egyptians, Syrians and others in the region have risked their lives to bring to an end."
According to Stork, Hamas is violating international law by subjecting civilians to military courts and denying prisoners their rights. The group accused Hamas of executing three detainees after obtaining forced confessions through torture. In 2011, 147 complaints of torture were filed against Hamas, according to Human Rights Watch.
Hamas officials said they would investigate the allegations, but denied there was widespread use of torture or political arrests.
"Maybe we have some violations from time to time, but it is not a widespread phenomenon," said Hamas Deputy Foreign Minister Ghazi Hamad. "Detention procedures are monitored by local human rights organizations, and we try as much as possible to follow international standards.”
One Gaza resident, who feared being identified, said he was arrested nearly two dozen times during recent protests calling for reforms and reconciliation with the rival Palestinian party, Fatah, which controls the West Bank. The young man said in an interview that he was beaten, shaved, humiliated, prevented from sleeping and burned with cigarettes during his detentions by Hamas.
"Hamas is lying and trying to hide its ugly face from the international community," he said.
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-- Rushdi abu Alouf
Abu Alouf is a special correspondent.