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December 2, 2004

Police hold deaf-mute Egyptian teen in custody for four months

From: Ha'aretz, Israel - Dec 2, 2004

By Ruth Sinai

A deaf-mute 15-year-old boy, apparently an Egyptian citizen, has been held in police custody for the past four months, along with adults, without legal representation or the presence of a social worker - and without the ability to communicate with those in his surroundings. Two human rights groups filed a petition with the Tel Aviv District Court yesterday requesting that the order to deport the teen be canceled, that he be immediately released and that a place be found where he can stay until his family is located in Egypt and he can be returned home. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers also asked the court to compensate the teen for the violation of his rights as a minor and for ignoring his special needs.

Dimona police caught the teenager on August 4, along with four men suspected of smuggling drugs into Israel. He was held in police custody for about a month, after which he was transferred to an Immigration Police jail in the south.

Anat Litvin, from Physicians for Human Rights, said the teen looks gaunt and small for his age. Volunteers from the hotline happened to meet him two weeks ago when they paid a routine visit to the Tzohar compound, where he is being held. The petition states that a Hotline for Migrant Workers staffer immediately realized the detainee was a minor and told the compound commander that he is not allowed to be held with adults.

However, the commander said the teen was not registered as a minor, and the state told the rights organizations that the four alleged drug smugglers said the teen was 26. Since he had no identification papers, their claim was accepted.

About a week after the hotline worker met the teenage detainee, the human rights groups located an anthropologist familiar with various sign languages, including those of Bedouin tribes in the south. They brought her in to meet the teen and discovered that he grew up in a Bedouin tribe along the coast in the Sinai, but was kidnapped by four people - apparently members of his tribe - who beat him and forced him to smuggle drugs from Egypt into Israel, according to the petition.

It appears that the police realized the teen was compelled to carry the drugs and perhaps even that he was a minor, as only the four men were indicted on drug charges. About a month after the teen was arrested, he was slated for deportation and moved to Tzohar. There he met with a Justice Ministry lawyer, but the petition states that "she was not concerned about his representation or with finding a translator who could sign in Arabic, in order to establish contact with the petitioner and allow him the right to a hearing and the realization of his right to an appropriate proceeding."

The Justice Ministry said the state will make its response in court. The Interior Ministry referred questions to the Immigration Police, which said it has turned to the Egyptian embassy and that the teen will soon get travel documents to enable him to return to Egypt.

However, the Immigration Police approached the Egyptians only three weeks ago, and their suggested solution - that the teen return to Egypt - does not find favor with the human rights groups submitting the petition.

"What are they going to do, bring him to the border and let him manage?" asked Litvin. The groups are conducting their own search for the teen's Bedouin tribe, and meanwhile are looking for an Israeli family that knows sign language and is willing to host him.

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