SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: August 28, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment | Prosecution

Institution(s):Birzeit University

Region & Country:Western Asia | Palestine (OPT)

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On August 28, 2019, Israeli military authorities detained and imprisoned Mays Abu Ghosh, a student at Birzeit University, on charges that apparently stem from her membership in a student organization. She has reportedly been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment while in state custody.

Abu Ghosh, a student in the media department at Birzeit University, is reportedly active in a left-wing students association called al-Qutub, which Israeli authorities allege is linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In the days leading up to Abu Ghosh’s detention, Israeli authorities claimed that PFLP was responsible for the killing of an Israeli teen on a West Bank settlement and began detaining scores of Palestinians accused of having connections with the PFLP. Al-Qutub has denied any links to the PFLP.

At roughly 4:00 AM on August 28, Israeli soldiers reportedly raided and searched Abu Ghosh’s family home at the Qalandiyah refugee camp outside of Ramallah. During the raid, soldiers reportedly damaged the family’s property and confiscated Abu Ghosh’s mobile phone before blindfolding and transferring her to a nearby military facility. She was reportedly interrogated over the course of several weeks and denied access to a lawyer for twenty-five days.

Israeli military officials later charged Abu Ghosh with “unlawful association” for her membership in al-Qutub and “conspiring to bring in funding from enemies” for her plans to set up a bank account for the same organization. She was also charged with “contact with an enemy” for attending a conference in Lebanon focused on the right of Palestinian refugees in that country to return to Palestine, and “manufacturing weapons” for allegedly possessing two glass jars filled with sand and cloth rags. Abu Ghosh’s lawyers and family have told media sources that she has endured various forms of torture while in Israeli custody, including beatings and being forced into painful pressure positions for several hours during interrogation.

Abu Ghosh’s detention occurred amid an apparent spike in detentions of Palestinian students in the West Bank, from July to August 2019. According to Birzeit University’s Right to Education campaign, fourteen Birzeit University students had been detained and imprisoned by the Israeli military during those two months, many based on their alleged membership in student groups.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by the detention and imprisonment of a student in apparent retaliation for her exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of association — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. SAR is also concerned by reports that the student has been subjected to torture while in state custody. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting or retaliating against students in connection with nonviolent expression and associations. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.