On May 14, 2017, Israeli armed forces reportedly detained Ahmad Qatamesh, a writer and prominent scholar of political science at Al-Quds University, as part of sweeping raids targeting over a dozen activists and other members of civil society. Although he has not, reportedly, been charged with a crime, authorities have ordered that he be held in administrative detention, which may last up to three months.
For many years, 66-year-old Professor Qatamesh has called for political reform in Palestine and regularly expresses critical views of both Israeli and Palestinian authorities. He has reportedly been detained on several occasions in the past. In the 1970’s he was taken into custody and imprisoned for four years on charges related to alleged involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP); he was again imprisoned for six years during the 1990’s on similar charges, which he denied. From 2011 to 2013 he was held in administrative detention without charge.
In the days and weeks leading up to his latest detention, Professor Qatamesh had expressed support and solidarity with a group of more than 1,300 Palestinian prisoners engaged in a hunger strike. According to his wife, over the past two years, Israeli authorities had summoned him several times for interrogations, during which he was warned about his public activism.
In the early morning of May 14, at least 40 Israeli soldiers raided and searched Professor Qatamesh’s home in the West Bank, and then detained and transported him to an unknown location, where he was unable to contact his family. On May 17, Israeli authorities reportedly placed him under administrative detention, which permits being held without charge for up to three months. Professor Qatamesh reportedly told his lawyers in a May 21 meeting that he had not been questioned since his detention, and that he would refuse to take his medication in protest. Israel’s intelligence agency Shin Bet reportedly has not disclosed the reason for his detention.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a scholar in apparent retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to protect the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression, and freedom of association, so long as they are exercised peacefully and responsibly. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.
UPDATE: On August 13, 2017, authorities released Professor Qatamesh after three months in administrative detention. No charges have been filed against him.