Human Rights Watch accused Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, of running a criminal justice system rife with arbitrary arrests, torture and unfair trials. Hamas officials responded sharply, challenging the methodology of the group’s research.
In a 43-page report titled “Abusive System,” Human Rights Watch detailed seven cases and called for an immediate moratorium on capital punishment in the Gaza Strip, as well as an end to prosecutions of civilians in military courts.
Gaza’s “criminal justice system reeks of injustice, routinely violates detainees’ rights, and grants impunity to abusive security services,” Joe Stork, the deputy Middle East director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement accompanying the report, which was presented at a news conference on Wednesday morning at a coastal hotel. “Hamas should stop the kinds of abuses that Egyptians, Syrians and others in the region have risked their lives to bring to an end.”
A number of Hamas officials disrupted the news conference, challenging Human Rights Watch’s work and barely allowing journalists time to ask questions.
“This is a politicized report that neglects the siege and the crimes of the Israeli occupation,” said Islam Shahwan, a spokesman for Hamas’s Interior Ministry.
Mr. Shahwan said Hamas had fired or disciplined 120 security employees for abusing prisoners, though he declined to detail the violations.
“We have opened the prisons for rights activists and groups to make sure that we do not use torture,” he added.
The report praises Hamas for allowing three Palestinian human rights groups “ad hoc access” to detainees, but calls on the government to lift its ban on access by the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian institution.
Bill Van Esveld, Human Rights Watch’s researcher for Israel and the Palestinian territories, noted that the report came five years after Hamas wrested control of the Gaza government from forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and his Fatah faction.
“Today, after having consolidated its control of Gaza, there is an opportunity for Hamas to end the abuses and bring about accountability,” Mr. Van Esveld said.
His report found at least three cases in which Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel were executed after confessions obtained through torture. One was Abdel Karim Shrair, who was arrested in July 2008 by members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades, and executed by firing squad in May 2011, according to the report.
Mr. Shrair’s relatives and lawyers told Human Rights Watch that he was tortured for three weeks before being transferred to police custody, and that his body was bruised and burned when they saw it. The report said that in a meeting on Sept. 26, the deputy director of Hamas’s internal security agency told Human Rights Watch that it had not investigated the case because it had never received a written complaint.