Arafat's 'Police State'

Yasser Arafat's self-rule area is being run like a "police state", according to the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group's annual report, released in January.

"The mechanisms of a police state are in place. The [Palestinian] Authority is practising these mechanisms as the average citizen looks on in horror," said the report, which alleges widespread human rights abuses in Palestinian-ruled areas in 1997. Of these violations, torture and extra-judicial killings in PA custody were the most severe reported.

Seven Palestinians died in custody during 1997. "There were no investigations and the perpetrators were punished only in one case. The high number of deaths is connected to the official and long-standing tolerance of torture by the security services," PHRMG said.

Illegal arrests and arbitrary detentions were the norm rather than the exception in PA areas, and the judicial system was in danger of becoming entirely irrelevant.

The report also detailed systematic violations of freedom of speech and said journalists lived in fear of arrest or torture for publishing articles critical of the PA.

Ibrahim Abu Dagga, "human rights adviser" to Arafat, said in response: "We are not angels but our human rights record has improved in recent months and continues to improve".

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