Prisoner X Inquiry |

Israel Releases Report on Zygier's Death, Concludes He Hanged Himself in Shower

Court orders a partial lifting of gag order on causes of Zygier's death after state agrees to publication; judge finds evidence of alleged negligence by prison authorities.

Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman
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Ofra Edelman
Ofra Edelman

Dual Israeli-Australian citizen Ben Zygier, who was later known as Prisoner X, hanged himself with a bed sheet in the shower of his solitary confinement cell, according to Israel's first publicly released report into the circumstances of his death.

On Tuesday, the state agreed to the partial publication of the investigation into Zygier’s death at Ayalon Prison on December 15, 2010. Rishon Letzion Magistrate's Court later in the day ordered a partial lifting of the gag order on the investigation.

"The deceased was found hanging in the shower of the prison cell with a bed sheet tied around his neck suspended from a window in the bathroom," the report said.

Zygier, 34 at his death, is suspected of being a Mossad agent or a double agent for Australia, according to Australian media reports.

In the investigation, Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai determined that Zygier had committed suicide; she also found evidence of possible negligence by Israel Prison Service officials, including senior officials. She ordered the State Prosecutor’s Office to examine whether any negligence would justify an indictment.

The state has asked to hold back a number of details in the investigation to prevent interference with another probe into possible negligence in the case.

The state wrote that after weighing all considerations, the court may order the publication of the report on the cause of death, with the exception of certain parts. The state took into account the position of the Zygier family, which left the decision to the court's discretion if identifying details on the family were not published.

The court accepted the state’s request that it address the motion to publish additional details again within 21 days, “so it will have sufficient time to study the case and formulate its position as to the totality of the considerations relevant to allowing publication of the rest of the decision."

According to the decision, “special supervision orders for preventing suicide risks were issued, and these were known to the people in charge of supervision and surveillance. These supervision orders were not carried out." Thus a "suicidal window of opportunity" developed.

An autopsy found “a small quantity of a sedative in [Zygier's] blood and no alcohol or narcotics.” But it still must be determined "whether the death was caused by a criminal offense," the judge wrote.

According to Blatman Kedrai, “Though the deceased was found hanged in the bathroom of the cell, this does not negate the theoretical possibility of active intervention on the part of another person who intentionally caused his death in this way." She said, however, that the evidence, including the torn bed sheet ,the findings of the autopsy, the testimony on Zygier's condition after he was found hanged, "the examination of the conditions of imprisonment that denied entry to the cell and the contents of the camera sweeps that negated the entry of another person into the cell – all this negated intervention by another person in causing the death."

The judge has assigned the investigation to the police's international crimes investigation unit. “The work of the investigative team went on for a number of months and byOctober 2011 I had before me comprehensive investigative materials, including a large number of testimonies and documents," she said.

In the investigation, testimony was taken from Zygier’s wife, his attorney and prison service employees – among them medical personnel, social workers, wardens and commanders at various levels.

According to the decision, a number of prison service employees testified under warning of suspicion of negligence. The names of these employees have been embargoed for publication at the state's request.

Blatman Kedrai said she “believed the investigation was carried out thoroughly, comprehensively and completely." She said it "scrupulously examined the totality of the relevant issues and established a proper and sufficient basis for summing up the investigation of the cause of the death.”

The judge wrote: “The obligations incumbent on the prison service are many and difficult to carry out. The obligations incumbent on prison service personnel in the matter of the deceased are especially difficult and complex in light of the layers of secrecy, compartmentalization, gaps in information and partial compartmentalization in the supervision orders themselves.”

“The evidentiary material shows that all prison service personnel who were on duty at the time of the suicide were working with the full intention to carry out their tasks, but tasks of supervising the deceased in accordance with the known instructions were not carried out,” the judge added.

According to the decision, the state believed that the investigation file on the causes of deathshould be closed because it did not show that Zygier’s death had been caused by a criminal offense. But the family cited evidence that Zygier had died due to negligence.

Ben Zygier in his IDF uniform.Credit: SMH Website
The isolation cell in which Ben Zygier, known as 'Prisoner X,' was incarcerated.Credit: Haaretz

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