The family of a Palestinian activist who died while in Palestinian Authority custody has filed a “war crimes and torture” case with the International Criminal Court, they said Thursday.
Nizar Banat, a well-known Palestinian critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA) with a large social media following, died in Palestinian police custody in Hebron in June 2021. His death sparked mass protests and angry condemnation of the Palestinian Authority from leading figures in the West Bank and beyond.
In a statement from The Hague, Banat’s brother Ghassan Khalil Moh’d Banat said the family felt the need to go to the ICC for “an unpoliticized investigation and prosecution of criminals.”
“When my brother was assassinated, he was becoming a prominent opponent to (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas, just by saying the truth about this corrupt and authoritarian regime. The way they killed him and are trying to get away with it reflects the level of impunity and of moral corruption that plague this regime,” Banat said.
The Palestinian Authority charged 14 officers after Banat’s death. Banat’s family said the officers were “low ranking” and the trial “farcical,” and that no senior officer was questioned.
Amnesty International said it was a violation of human rights standards to hold the investigation and trial before a military rather than a civilian court. On the one-year anniversary of Banat’s death, Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, called the military justice process a “smokescreen to protect those higher up.”
The family’s attorney Hakan Camuz said Thursday the case is the first time a Palestinian is bringing the Palestinian Authority to the ICC.
“The PA has been a State party to the ICC since 2015. Yet, it has always been devised as a protection against the crimes of Israel against Palestinians. Sadly, under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority has become another oppressor for the Palestinian people, just as much as Israel,” Camuz said in a statement. “Nizar Banat was killed because he shed the light on this regime’s corruption and violence. We are seeking justice for him, for his family but also for the whole people of Palestine.”
CNN has asked the Palestinian Authority Presidency for comment on the case. CNN has also asked the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC to confirm it has received the case file.