Mustapha Awad, Palestinian refugee and Belgian citizen, co-founder of Raj’een Dabkeh Troupe and metal worker, was sentenced on 28 November by an Israeli court to one year in prison. Like the vast majority of so-called “security” or political cases in Israeli courts (military or “civil”) against Palestinians, the case concluded in a plea agreement. For Palestinians, the consequences of rejecting such an agreement can include trial processes that stretch on for months or even years before the imposition of a lengthy sentence.
Awad, 36 and a longtime activist for Palestinian rights – including the freedom of Palestinian political prisoners – was seized by Israeli occupation forces in an alarming incident on 19 July. Born in Ein el-Helweh refugee camp in Lebanon, Awad wanted to visit Palestine for the first time. Instead of being welcomed to his homeland or even being interrogated and deported as numerous Palestinians with international citizenships – as well as international solidarity activists – have been, he was seized by occupation forces and taken to interrogation inside occupied Palestine.
Awad was interrogated for nearly a month, sometimes under severe pressure and reportedly up to 20 hours out of the day, deprived of sleep. He faced accusations of “membership in an illegal organization,” allegedly the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Every major Palestinian political party has been labeled “illegal” by the Israeli occupation, and even members of student blocs and mass organizations are regularly hit with this charge by the Israeli occupation.
The “Free Mustapha” Committee, an alliance of dozens of organizations and individuals, continues to fundraise to support Mustapha’s legal fees and pressure Belgium to demand his release. As documented by David Cronin in the Electronic Intifada, the Belgian government has failed to take action on Awad’s case, despite the fact that his only citizenship is Belgian. Instead, while Awad has been visited by the Belgian consul, Belgium has not responded to repeated meetings and demands from Awad’s Belgian family and friends to put serious pressure on Israel for his release.
“We have the impression that Belgium is abandoning a Belgian citizen… It should be very clear to say that we do not accept the treatment of a Belgian citizen like that because tomorrow it can be you, it can be me, and it is unacceptable,” said Belgian lawyer and honorary president of the League of Human Rights Alexis Deswaef.
The next protest for Awad’s freedom and in solidarity with Palestine will take place on Tuesday, 11 December at 5:30 pm in the city of Mons, in Grand Place. Previous events have taken place in cities across Belgium, including Brussels, Charleroi, Antwerp and Ghent. Awad’s case has been featured at a range of Palestine and social justice events in Belgium, including the event organized for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People featuring French-Palestinian lawyer and recently released political prisoner Salah Hamouri.
Awad’s case has sparked concern from many active Palestinians, especially those with European citizenship, given that it seems to mark an even more intensely escalated level of repression against Palestinians seeking to visit their homeland. Now, Palestinians with international citizenships coming to Palestine not only have to be concerned about racism, harsh interrogations and forced exclusion from their homeland, but also with the possibility of political arrest, interrogation and imprisonment.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network reiterates our demand for the immediate release of Mustapha Awad. We call on the Belgian government to demand his liberation and to take a stand for Mustapha and other Palestinians facing exclusion and repression at the hands of the Israeli state, including all Palestinian refugees denied their internationally recognized right to return to their homeland.
To donate to the Free Mustapha committee for Mustapha’s legal bills, use the following bank information:
BE96 7360 5044 3805.
BIC: KRED BE BB
Below is the press release from the Free Mustapha Committee:
Belgian worker and artist Mustapha Awad sentenced to one year in prison in Israel.
Yesterday our dear friend Mustapha Awad was sentenced by an Israeli court to 12 months in prison. He was sentenced on the basis of « confessions » obtained under conditions related to torture (secret detention, forced interrogation 20H/day, sleep deprivation).
In reality, it is an empty file, dealing with facts for which he could not be convicted in Belgium.
Mustapha is accused of belonging to an « illegal » organization: for Israel any organization that resists occupation and apartheid is illegal. The Israeli court mentions a « training »: in fact, it is a computer security course, which could be organized by any human rights organization. As for support for « financing », the facts mentioned concern humanitarian action.
Once again, the Free Mustapha Committee asserts that Mustapha’s imprisonment is fundamentally unfair and unacceptable and the Committee will continue to demand his immediate release, as well as the end of Belgium’s official silence around this affair.
This message was also delivered at meeting with the Foreign Ministry on the day of conviction in Israel by delegation composed of An Muylaert – Mustapha’s Belgian mother, Alexis Deswaef – Honorary President of the League of Human Rights, Pierre Galand – President of the ABP and the World Organization Against Torture, Hamdan Al Damiri, and Myriam De Ly – members of the Free Mustapha Committee.
The delegation firmly asked that Minister Reynders take a public stand that Belgium can not tolerate such violations of international law and human rights and calls for the immediate release of Mustapha Awad.
The Free Mustapha Committee has already organized a new protest action. It will take place on Tuesday, December 11, at 17:30 on the Grand Place of Mons.
Freedom for Mustapha! Freedom for all Palestinian prisoners!