'Prisoner X' died by hanging in shower, says Israeli court
An anonymous prisoner who died in an Israeli prison in 2010, identified by the press as Australian-Israeli Mossad agent Ben Zygier, hanged himself in the bathroom of his cell, court documents said on Tuesday.
“The deceased was found hanging in the shower of his detention cell, with a sheet around his neck tied to the window of the bathroom,” read the protocol, issued after a hearing at Rishon LeTzion Magistrates Court near Tel Aviv.
The court approved a request to loosen a gag order on publication of details from the inquest into the death of the prisoner, who was last week identified by Australian broadcaster ABC as Ben Zygier.
Israel has acknowledged only that a prisoner with a foreign passport had committed suicide.
It went to extreme lengths to cover up the story, imposing a media blackout that was only partially eased last week after the story was broken by ABC, which said Zygier had been jailed in top-secret conditions in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv.
Following Tuesday’s hearing, parts of the inquest – which was only completed about six weeks ago – were made public. They included the verdict that the prisoner had committed suicide on December 15, 2010.
The coroner noted there were also “light abrasions on his left forearm caused by a dry blow that didn’t contribute to the death.”
He also said “a small quantity of a sedative was found in (his) blood, not alcohol or drugs,” without it changing his opinion that the cause of death was hanging.
The inquest also states that the Israel Prisons Service (IPS) could be guilty of “negligence in causing the detainee’s death.”
In a fresh report published on Monday, ABC said Zygier was arrested after giving Australian intelligence officials a comprehensive account of a number of Mossad operations.
But former foreign minister Alexander Downer said he believed it was “more serious” than just a leak to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
“I suspect it was something more serious than just sharing information with ASIO,” he told ABC radio.
Zygier cell was under 24-hour surveillance, sparking a welter of questions about how he could have managed to hang himself, but Israeli media reports said there was no camera in the bathroom to maintain the prisoner’s privacy.
An internal inquiry by the IPS, parts of which were quoted by Maariv newspaper, showed that guards only looked at the footage from his cell every “20 to 25 minutes” because he was not classed as a prisoner with suicidal tendencies.
Israel’s parliament is to launch an “intensive” inquiry into the arrest and death of Zygier, who immigrated to Israel around 2001 and was arrested in February 2010.
Australia’s foreign ministry is also preparing its own report into the affair.
Meanwhile, outgoing Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said there were no more anonymous prisoners being held incognito.
“There are no more anonymous prisoners in Israel,” he said.
“There is adequate supervision and the law is upheld, but there is also great concern for state security which must sometimes take covert actions to protect itself,” he told public radio.