A group of UN human rights experts on Friday called on Israel not to discriminate against thousands of vulnerable Palestinian prisoners facing high-risk exposure to the coronavirus.
Women, children, older persons and those with pre-existing medical conditions are among the most vulnerable, according to experts.
“There are currently more than 4,520 Palestinian prisoners, including 183 children, 43 women and 700 detainees with pre-existing medical conditions in Israeli jails,” they noted.
“They remain dangerously vulnerable in the context of the current pandemic and the relative increase in the number of transmission rates in Israel,” the UN experts said.
They also expressed serious concerns over reports that Israeli authorities are impeding efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 in East Jerusalem.
In one reported incident, Israeli authorities recently raided a testing clinic in the densely populated Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan under the pretext that its testing kits were provided by the Palestinian Authority.
Israel has also arrested doctors, they said.
The experts said that over the past month, Israel had released hundreds of Israeli prisoners as a preventive and protective step.
It had not, however, applied similar measures to Palestinian prisoners.
“This indicates discriminatory treatment towards Palestinians prisoners – which would be a violation of international law,” said the experts.
The experts said prisoner releases should also include those in administrative and pre-trial detention.
“Israel should be taking steps to release those facing arbitrary measures as well as vulnerable groups in its prisons to reduce overcrowding and ensure the minimum conditions to prevent the spread of the virus,” they added.
The experts noted that family visits had been banned since the COVID-19 outbreak and access to lawyers restricted for Palestinian detainees.
“It is critical that any such measures are medically justified and, if so, alternative means for communication, such as video conferencing, should be made available. Special and more relaxed measures should also apply to children and women for visits,” they added.