Representing the Family of Hamad Dibsan in an Investigation into his Death in Police Custody

Beer el-Sebe Magistrates' Court, Cause of Death Investigation 1001/04 In Re. Hamad Dibsan, Deceased

Yesterday, 18 August 2003, Adalah sent a letter to Attorney General (AG) Elyakim Rubenstein demanding that he order the opening of an investigation into the death of Mr. Hamad Dibsan, a 30 year-old Arab citizen of Israel, who died while in police custody.

Following a middle of the night police search of Mr. Dibsan's home in Rahat in the Naqab (Negev) on 14 August 2003, Mr. Dibsan was arrested and detained. Later that day, Mr. Dibsan's family was told to bring clothes and shoes to the police station for him, which they did, however, they did not see him. At 3 a.m. on 17 August 2003, the police notified Mr. Dibsan's family that he had committed suicide. The Dibsan family told Adalah that they had no contact with Mr. Dibsan from the time he was taken into police custody until they received news of his death.

Upon learning of Mr. Dibsan's death, family members went to the police station for further information. The police re-directed them to the Institute for Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, where they identified Mr. Dibsan's body. Later, Mr. Dibsan's brother told Adalah that: "The body had different marks on it, a 10-12 cm. long cut was apparent on the neck, the back of the neck had signs of a rope, a large bruise was apparent on his back. There was a wound close to his right eye-lid."

Mr. Dibsan's family agreed to the performance of an autopsy, on the condition that it be conducted in the presence of an external physician. With Adalah's intervention, Dr. Dani Rozin of Physicians for Human Rights-Israel was authorized to observe the autopsy at the Forensic Institute.

Based on these facts, in the letter, Adalah urged the AG to order the opening of an investigation into the cause of death of Mr. Dibsan, in accordance with Article 19 of the Cause of Death Investigation Law - 1958. Article 19 of the Law authorizes the AG to call for and conduct an investigation into the death of a person while in police custody; it does not mandate such an inquiry. Adalah emphasized that if no investigation into the cause of death is conducted, including the detention procedures, the means utilized by police while questioning Mr. Dibsan, and the steps taken to protect his well being while in custody, the true reasons and circumstances of his death will remain uncertain. Further, Adalah argued that the chain of events and circumstances regarding the young man's death, as well as possible rights violations, including his right to counsel and his right to be brought before a judge within the period required by law, raise suspicions as to whether or not Mr. Dibsan had indeed put an end to his own life. Even if Mr. Dibsan did commit suicide, Adalah contended, an investigation should still be conducted as to the causes and circumstances surrounding his death.

Adalah stressed that: "It is difficult to disregard the sad fact that during the past few months three people have lost their lives as a result of the police shooting at Arab citizens - the recurring phenomenon of police violence and their abuse of power, specifically vis-à-vis Arab Bedouin, requires an intensive investigation. This is true anytime a suspicion arises as to possible law violations due to the use of undue force by the police, causing physical harm to a person, and even more so when a person has died under suspicious circumstances." Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker approached the AG on behalf of the Dibsan family. Adalah is awaiting the AG's response to the letter.