JERUSALEM (Reuters 20th January, 1998) – A leading Palestinian human rights group, accusing the Palestinian Authority of acting like a “police state,” issued a scathing report Tuesday detailing widespread human rights abuses in Palestinian-ruled areas in 1997.

“The mechanisms of a police state are in place. The Authority is practicing these mechanisms as the average citizen looks on in horror,” the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group (PHRMG) said in its annual report, “The State of Human Rights in Palestine.”

The report said torture and extra-judicial killings in Palestinian Authority custody were the most severe human rights violations in self-ruled areas.

“Seven Palestinians died in custody during 1997, compared to only four in 1996,” said the report, distributed at a Jerusalem news conference by PHRMG director Bassem Eid.

“There were no investigations and the perpetrators were punished only in one case. The high number of deaths is connected to the official and long-standing tolerance of torture by the security services,” the report said.

It stressed that in Palestinian-controlled areas, “more and more Palestinians are engaged in the important work of arresting, torturing, and occasionally killing each other, much as they did during 1996 and 1995.”

The report said illegal arrests and arbitrary detentions were the norm rather than the exception in Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

It said the judicial system, both military and civilian, was in danger of becoming entirely irrelevant for Palestinian citizens as hundreds of prisoners were denied their day in court…

The report detailed systematic violations of freedoms of speech and the press and said journalists lived in fear of either arrest or torture for publishing articles critical of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat’s self-rule authority.

The Palestinian Authority has come under sharp criticism from local and international human rights groups for abuses it carried out in areas under its control since its establishment in 1993.

Human rights violations have intensified after crackdowns against alleged members of Muslim militant groups which have killed scores of Israelis in suicide attacks aimed at undermining Israel- Palestinian peace deals.

Palestinian officials said that human rights abuses were acts carried out by individuals in the security apparatus but were not police policy. “We are not angels but our human rights record has improved in recent months and continues to improve,” insisted Ibrahim Abu Dagga, human rights adviser to Arafat.

The PHRMG dismissed such claims, stating that torture carried out by the Palestinian security forces was “frequent and routine”.

“What is absolutely verifiable is that torture is taking place throughout the West Bank and Gaza with the knowledge and approval of our executive branch,” the report stated.

“To talk of ‘improvement’ in such a context is a way of mocking the victims,” it said….