Dura, occupied West Bank – Palestinian journalist Mohammed al-Qiq has been on hunger strike for more than two months to protest against his detention without charge or trial.
Qiq, a reporter for the Saudi-owned TV channel Almajd and a father of two, is one of 660 Palestinians being held in administrative detention – the highest number since 2008, according to data released in December. Under international law, administrative detention is only permissible as a last resort and in cases of an immediate threat.
The Israeli Supreme Court heard a petition this week asking for Qiq’s release, but the court postponed making a decision, saying that it would continue to follow his health condition. Last July, Israel passed a law allowing the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, which met strong opposition from the Israeli medical community. Al-Qiq was not force-fed, but he was given liquids intravenously without his consent until his lawyer intervened.
As Qiq’s condition at the HaEmek Medical Centre in Afula, Israel, continued to deteriorate, Al Jazeera spoke with his wife, Fayha Shalash, 28, a journalist, in his West Bank hometown of Dura, where friends and family gathered over the weekend in support.
Al Jazeera: How did you find out Mohammed had started a hunger strike?
Fayha Shalash: He was arrested on November 21. Around 15 soldiers came to the house and confiscated phones and his laptop. After five days, we discovered that he was being kept at al-Jalame military detention and interrogation centre in the north of the West Bank. I knew from my work as a journalist that this is one of the worst. Later, we found out he had been psychologically and physically tortured.
He was interrogated for 25 days and was only allowed to see his lawyer on day 20.
On December 3, he was taken to a court to extend his detention. He was still not allowed to talk to a lawyer and told a judge he had started a hunger strike on November 25, while still under interrogation, to protest at the conditions of his detention. That’s how we found out.
Al Jazeera: What did you learn about his interrogation?
Shalash: They kept him tied to a chair and blindfolded. He was cursed at, screamed at, spat at. They threatened to sexually assault him and stop him from having children.
He asked that we accept the outcome of his hunger strike, even his death. He said, 'I either live free or I die in dignity.'
During his interrogation, he was accused of media incitement, and given two options – either he confessed, or he would spend seven years in administrative detention. But that’s against his ethics, and if he confessed to that, it would be a problem for the rest of his life for his work as a journalist …
When he refused to confess to the accusation [of media incitement], they started using the fact that he used to belong to Hamas. He was already arrested and charged for his political activity eight years ago.
Al Jazeera: Has he been arrested by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the past, as well as by Israel?
Shalash: He was arrested twice by the PA, each time for a month, and three times by Israel. The last was in 2008, when he was sentenced to 16 months for being the head of a student block at Birzeit University.
All three times, he was charged for supporting the students in what Israel deems illegal acts. He was given charges and served his time in prison. But this time, he feels this is an unlawful arrest. There are no charges against him, no real reason for his detention.
Al Jazeera: Have you been able to communicate with him or see him?
Shalash: The last time I saw him was in the military Jeep on the day of his arrest. We asked for permits to visit him through the Red Cross, but his father, brothers and myself were all rejected. I communicate with him through his lawyers.
Al Jazeera: Do you feel there’s enough support from the public, the PA and international institutions?
Shalash: In the last week, when his medical condition worsened, we got in touch with all sorts of leaders and organisations. We received a phone call from the prime minister’s office and [President Mahmoud Abbas] issued a statement about Mohammed’s condition. But we are demanding more pressure and action on their part. There isn’t any negotiation at the moment.
The issue of hunger strikes for Palestinians is a very important battle. It’s a real confrontation with the occupation. There are hundreds of administrative detainees, and at least 18 imprisoned journalists – the majority in administrative detention. There is a lot of public support for him, and it will only increase should anything happen to him.
His condition is very bad. He is doing the Irish hunger strike and refuses medical checks and supplements. The longest time anyone has survived such a strike is 67 days.
He asked that we accept the outcome of his hunger strike, even his death. He said, “I either live free or I die in dignity.”
Al Jazeera: Are you 100 percent behind that statement?
Shalash: I support him fully, and adopt his point of view. We don’t like hunger and we don’t like death, but it becomes an issue of dignity, and this is the story of every Palestinian. He signed a paper where he refuses any medical treatment, even if he loses consciousness. His decision is very clear: either free or dead, not in between.
He isn’t just fighting a personal battle. He sent a message to Palestinian journalists from prison, saying that freedom is not something given to you by your position or authority. It comes from your stance. His refusal of administrative detention – this is how he is taking a stance.
Despite the pressure, he made sure to send me a birthday gift – a hair straightener I asked for a year ago. He always supports me; he encouraged me to study for a master’s degree.
The Israeli occupation tries to remove this beautiful image of him as a human being. They try to show that we like to live this horrific life. But what Mohammed is doing is actually the greatest example that we love life and freedom, and that we’d like to live like everybody else.