Palestinian Authority grants bail to accused killers of activist Nizar Banat
The Palestinian Authority has ordered the release of 14 security officers who stand accused of killing activist Nizar Banat last year.
The officers have been freed on the condition that they attend court hearings on time, a top Palestinian security official who requested anonymity told AFP.
The risk of Covid-19 spreading in the West Bank prison where they were held was cited as grounds for their release in a letter seen by the news agency, written by the prosecutor responsible for oversight of Palestinian security forces, Abdelnasser Jarrar.
The suspects will remain at liberty - so they can get medical checkups - until 2 July, a day before their next court hearing.
Banat's family criticised the decision to release them, saying they refuse to trust or cooperate with Palestinian Authority (PA) courts.
Jihan Banat, his widow, slammed the PA's justification and further charged that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's administration could not credibly judge her husband's accused killers.
"The murderer cannot be a judge," she told AFP, describing the decision to release the suspects on bail as "political".
"If the Palestinian Authority is worried about the spread of the coronavirus, why doesn't it release all the other prisoners held on charges?"
Banat's brother, Ghassan, read a statement in response to the decision, saying that the "international judiciary is the only path" towards achieving justice.
Banat's 'unnatural' death
Banat was killed on 24 June last year. The 46-year-old dissident, an outspoken critic of the PA, died in custody after dozens of security forces stormed his home in Hebron to arrest him.
The prominent Palestinian political activist and advocate of free speech was known for his outspoken videos on social media criticising the PA for its corruption, as well as its security coordination with the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank.
His death was met with widespread outrage and angry protests in the West Bank. It also raised questions about the legitimacy of the PA as a governing body.
At the time of his death, PA Justice Minister Muhammad Shalalda, who headed a committee investigating the killing, told Palestine TV that Banat had been subject to physical violence and that his death was "unnatural".
He said that the committee confirmed "from footage and all reports" that Banat had left his home alive but lost consciousness on the way to hospital.
A post-mortem examination found he had been beaten on the head, chest, neck, legs and hands, with less than an hour passing between his arrest and his death.
Outside of the occupied Palestinian territories, several lawmakers in the United States also condemned the killing, saying that Banat's death and the arrests of activists "seriously call the Palestinian Authority's commitment to accountability into question".