A most interesting story this one. Here's Fairfax's Middle East correspondent Ruth Pollard's report from today's Sydney Morning Herald, 'Australian's suicide in solitary': Netanyahu under pressure:
"Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under pressure to answer questions over allegations that an Australian citizen committed suicide while being held in solitary confinement in the country's highest-security prison.
"The man known as 'Prisoner X' was held in conditions of such strict secrecy in Israel's Ayalon Prison that not even the jail's staff knew his name or the crime he was alleged to have committed, the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program said on Tuesday.
"It named 'Prisoner X' as 34-year-old Ben Zygier and said it appeared the former Melbourne man had been recruited by the Israeli spy agency Mossad before his disappearance in early 2010. He had moved to Israel 10 years before that, changing his name to Ben Alon and marrying a local woman with whom he had two children, the program said.
"He was allegedly found in his high-security cell in December 2010 and his body flown home to Australia soon after, Foreign Correspondent reported.
"Ben Zygier is believed to have been the son of Geoffrey Zygier, the executive director of the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission and one of the leaders of the Melbourne Jewish Community. He also had identification using a third name, Ben Allen, the program alleged.
"The Israeli Government has gone to extreme lengths to suppress the story since news of Prisoner X's arrest first appeared in 2010, with a judge issuing a gag order that prevented any mention of the case, or even the fact that there was a gag order, the ABC reported.
"At the time, the revelation that a prisoner was being held in total seclusion in a private wing of Ayalon Prison for an undisclosed crime prompted human rights groups to launch a campaign to force Israel to reveal his identity.
"'He is simply a person without a name and without an identity who has been placed in total and utter isolation from the outside world,' a prison official was quoted as saying at the time in the Yediot Ahronot before the story disappeared from its website.
"Soon after the ABC's story was broadcast last night, Mr Netanyahu's office convened an urgent meeting of the country's senior media editors, the Haaretz newspaper reported. 'The PMO asked members during the meeting to co-operate with the government and withhold publication of information pertaining to an incident that is very embarrassing to a certain government agency, Haaretz said. All reference to the report on Prisoner X disappeared from Israeli news sites, including Haaretz, shortly after the meeting.
"The Prime Minister's spokesman, Mark Regev, declined to comment on the issue, which was raised in the parliament during a debate by Ahmed Tibi, the leader of the United Arab List - Ta'al, as well as by Labor politician Nachman Shai and Meretz party leader Zahava Gal-On. In response to Mr Tibi's questions about Israel's treatment of 'Prisoner X', Justice Minister Yaakov Ne'eman replied: 'I cannot answer these questions because the matter does not fall under the authority of the justice minister. But there is no doubt that if true, the matter must be looked into.'
"When the scant details of the 'Prisoner X' story first came to light, Israel's human rights groups were quick to express their concern.
"'It is insupportable that, in a democratic country, authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear them from public view without the public even knowing such an arrest took place,' the Association for Civil Rights in Israel wrote in June 2010. But they, too, appear to be bound by the court's gag order - their spokesman told Fairfax Media overnight that ACRI could not comment on the matter at this time.
"Human Rights Watch has also raised the alarm at the secrecy surrounding Mr Zygier's arrest, incarceration and death, warning that Israel was required to notify another country if it takes one of its citizens into detention and if that citizen dies in detention. It should notify the person promptly of any charges against them, ensure they had access to a lawyer and to someone outside detention, said HRW's senior Middle East researcher, Bill van Esveld, who is based in Jerusalem. 'If the allegations are correct and Israel denied knowledge of his detention, then that is a 'disappearance' under international law,' Mr van Esveld said. He noted that while Palestinian prisoners were regularly detained without charge and often denied access to a lawyer for an unacceptable period of time, it was rare for Israeli prisoners to experience this kind of treatment.
"Foreign Minister Bob Carr described the allegations as troubling. 'It's never been raised with me. I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened to Mr Allen and about what their view of it is,' he told the ABC. 'Even if Prisoner X has now been identified, his crime, however, remains a mystery, although it has been widely speculated that it would have involved treachery to warrant such extreme measures.' Mr Carr's office did not respond to questions from Fairfax Media."
The Australian's report, Israeli prisoner Mr X 'an Aussie' really doesn't add much of substance to the above except this: "Foreign Correspondent reported that it lodged a Freedom of Information report with the Department of Foreign Affairs about Zygier, but was refused the documents on the basis it could 'have a substantial adverse impact on the proper and efficient conduct of consular operations.'" (Mitchell Nadin)
I'm left wondering whether the case of Prisoner X isn't connected in some way to Mossad's theft of Australian and other foreign passports for use in the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010. For those interested in refreshing their memories regarding the details of that case, simply click on the Mossad label below. My many posts on the subject begin with Disinformation Services (8/2/10) Particularly interesting, in the light of both Netanyahu's imposition of silence on the matter of Prisoner X and DFAT's refusal to hand over relevant documents, is my 15/10/10 post Omerta.