The Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) is concerned over the restrictions imposed by the Internal Security Service (ISS) against lawyers’ visits to their clients, who are detained at detention centers of the ISS, which is considered a violation of legal principles.In the past few days, PCHR’s lawyers tried to visit a number of their clients held in detention centers in accordance with a verbal agreement recently reached with the Director of Central Detention at ISS.

This agreement requires PCHR to send a written letter listing the detainees to be visited, in order for the lawyers to conduct the visits within a two-day period from the date of the letter.

On 15 April 2012, PCHR sent a written letter to allow its lawyers to visit five of their clients according to the aforementioned agreement. On 18 April 2012, PCHR lawyers headed to the detention center after inquiring about the visit.

They were surprised when the officers claimed that two of the detainees were not present in the detention facilities. As a result the lawyers could only visit three of them.

PCHR had stopped visiting its clients at the ISS detention centers in Gaza, from 15 August 2011, protesting against the new protocols for visiting detainees imposed after the establishment of the ISS Human Rights Office (HRO). These protocols require a long and complicated process of exchange of communications with this office.

First, a letter has to be sent to the HRO to inquire about the presence of detainees in the detention centers. A written response on whether the detainees assigned for visitation are available or not has to be sent back.

Then, a written letter to obtain permission for the visits has to be sent to the HRO. Ultimately, after a period of time the HRO issues a written letter stating whether the detainees are or not allowed to be visited.

The above-mentioned procedure can be extended to two weeks, which means that a detainee will be deprived of visits from his/her lawyer during that period. As a result, the legal activities may be hampered.

During the period in which PCHR stopped visiting the detainees, it exerted efforts to ensure that PCHR’s lawyers can visit their clients in due process. In so doing, PCHR held meetings with and sent letters to the concerned authorities.

As a result, promises were given at the political and legislative levels but they have not been applied. Although the ISS insisted the above-mentioned procedures be followed, PCHR preferred to return to visiting its clients inside the detention centers upon the verbal agreement upheld with the Director of Central Detention on 14 April 2012.

On 18 April 2012, PCHR sent a written letter to the ISS, requesting the visit of four detainees including a lawyer, who is detained in violation of the law, however no response has been received so far. Not receiving any reply is considered a violation of the verbal agreement.

The Palestinian legislator’s philosophy to allow lawyers to visit their clients was not taken randomly, but to confirm the detainee’s right to visitation by his lawyer in order to ensure a just trial.

Any legal text was not issued to restrict the lawyer’s freedom of visiting his/her clients, however, article 54 of Law 6/1998 on Correction and Rehabilitation Centers ‘prisons’ provides that: ‘[t]he lawyer of a detained or sentenced person has the right to visit his[/her] client privately, whether upon invitation from the detainee or the lawyer.’

Besides, paragraph (c) of article 20 of the Practitioner Lawyers Act No. (3) of 1999 explicitly stipulates offering the necessary facilitation for the lawyers to conduct their professional duties before the governmental and non-governmental authorities, and they have to be treated according to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct.

PCHR warns against the impact of obstructing the detainees’ visits at ISS detention centers. It also reiterates its concerns that those restrictions were imposed on illegal grounds and possibly used to hide torture and other forms of cruel treatment practices against detainees.

In view of the above, PCHR calls upon those responsible for the detention centers to carry out their responsibilities, and calls upon the government in Gaza to:

1. Respect and ensure the fulfilment by security services of the rule of law;

2. Allow PCHR’s lawyers to visit their clients inside the detention centers in due process.