Occupied West Bank, Palestine – Following Palestinian outrage and a public campaign that went viral and drew international attention and condemnation, a heavily pregnant Palestinian detainee was released from an Israeli jail to house arrest to give birth at home.
Anhar al-Deek, 25, in her ninth month of pregnancy, was released from Israel’s Damon prison late on Thursday to house arrest in the village of Kafr Nai’ma in the Israeli occupied West Bank after paying a bond of more than $12,000.
She was jailed after spending months in detention in Israel’s Hasharon prison in solitary confinement where she was interrogated and subjected to harsh conditions despite being pregnant.
Anhar was arrested in March after entering an illegal Israeli settlement outpost near Kafr Nai’ma constructed on land belonging to the al-Deek family.
Following a confrontation with a dozen settlers, Anhar was arrested by Israeli soldiers who accused her of an attempted knifing attack.
As the impending birth of her child approached, the Israeli Prison Services (IPS) repeatedly denied requests by her family and lawyers for her release on humanitarian grounds so she could give birth surrounded by her family.
Instead, the IPS ruled that Anhar would have a Caesarian operation in an Israeli hospital while anaesthetised and shackled to her bed by her arms and legs.
However, her family, lawyers, and supporters continued to fight for her release confident of the injustice of her prison conditions.
“We were very hopeful that Anhar would be released because our lawyer argued before the Ofer Military Court [near Ramallah] that Anhar was suffering from depression since the birth of her daughter Julia, 2, and was psychologically distressed and had been assaulted by over a dozen settlers and soldiers,” Anhar’s brother Motee al-Deek told Al Jazeera.
Milena Ansari from the Palestinian prisoners’ organisation Addameer said Anhar had not been charged with attempted murder but only assault as it was determined that she picked up a knife only after entering a settlement house where an altercation broke out with a group of settlers who subsequently called the Israeli army leading to her arrest.
“Normally the Israeli military prosecution wins 99 percent of its cases against Palestinians and imposes the harshest charges and punishment as a means of enforcing the occupation,” Ansari told Al Jazeera.
“Prior to her release, we had repeatedly asked ourselves why a sedated, pregnant woman giving birth would pose any security threat to the Israeli authorities and would need to be shackled,” said Ansari.
“The detention, incarceration and ill-treatment of pregnant women is in violation of international humanitarian law, specifically Article 76 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August, 1949, which requires that detained pregnant women and mothers having dependent infants ‘have their cases considered with the utmost priority’.”
UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders explicitly states: “Instruments of restraint shall never be used on women during labour, during birth and immediately after birth.”
Ansari said Hasharon Prison, where the majority of Anhar’s interrogation took place, was also known for its harsh conditions, said Ansari.
“The cells are small, there is a lack of medical staff, the food is not good and the women have no privacy while under 24-hour surveillance,” she added.
As Anhar’s prolonged detention continued, an enraged Palestinian public held protests in her village, in cities across the West Bank, in Gaza, as well as outside the prison in Israel where she was imprisoned.
Her family and supporters appealed for international intervention with the Palestinian Authority representative to the United Nations outlining to the international organisation the harsh conditions under which Anhar was jailed while the Palestinian health minister expressed concern.
The International Red Cross had also monitored developments.
The campaign for her release went viral on social media after Anhar released a letter of appeal asking “every free and honourable person to take action if only by a word”.
Anhar’s supporters said the bad publicity was instrumental in helping secure her release.
Her case further brought to light the exceptional cases of other Palestinian women who had given birth in Israeli prisons subject to deliberate medical neglect and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, Addameer reported (PDF).
Had her detention continued, she would not have been the first female Palestinian prisoner to give birth while imprisoned in Israel.
Since 1972, eight cases of imprisoned pregnant Palestinian women who have given birth in occupation prisons have been documented.
“In each of these cases pregnant female detainees, despite their condition, were still also subjected to the harsh, systematic practices of interrogation, torture and ill-treatment by the occupying power, endured by other Palestinian detainees,” said Addameer.
According to the rights group, beyond arrest and interrogation pregnant Palestinian women detainees face constant shackling and harsh living conditions that result in high-risk pregnancies and endanger the lives of the women and their unborn children.
In a 2008 report to the Human Rights Council, the UN special rapporteur on torture notably identified the practice of shackling as problematic.
“Pregnant women should not be deprived of their liberty unless there are absolutely compelling reasons to do so and their particular vulnerability should be borne in mind. Measures of physical restraint should be avoided during delivery,” the rapporteur stated.
And on Friday, as Anhar and her family celebrated her first taste of freedom in months, in Kafr Nai’ma, her brother Ahmed said the family was relieved at her release.
“We were extremely concerned about the health of both Anhar and the baby and what could have happened to her,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera.
“Her daughter Julia used to ask repeatedly where her mother was and when we showed her a picture of Anhar she would burst into tears. But now mother and daughter are reunited and cuddling.”