Family of Palestinian Who Died in Jail Claims Medical Negligence

Inmate complained for weeks of feeling unwell, was put in solitary confinement for 'nagging guards.'

A Palestinian prisoner from the West Bank died in his cell in Ma'asiyahu prison on Saturday, August 25 due to medical negligence, his family said.

The Prison Service has denied allegations of medical negligence or maltreatment prior to the death of Omar Masalma, 23, from the village of Beit Awa, south of Hebron.

MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) has written to Public Security Minister Avi Dichter demanding an urgent probe into the circumstances of Masalma's death and the medical treatment he received.

Masalma had complained of being unwell for weeks, his cell mates told his relatives on the telephone from the prison. On the day prior to his death he had complained of severe stomach pains, they said.

Masalma banged on his cell door for a long time on the night he died, seeking help. Eventually he was taken out of his cell but was returned five minutes later, after receiving some kind of pill, he could not say what kind, his cell mates said.

He groaned with pain for hours and fell silent at about 4 A.M. His fellow inmates thought he had fallen asleep, but in the morning he was dead.

A week before Masalma died his sister Zachariat visited him. She said he complained of pain and said he was not receiving proper medical attention. In his telephone calls home he had also complained of feeling unwell, she said.

Masalma told her he had been sent to solitary confinement for "nagging" the wardens.

Despite its complaints the family refused to have an autopsy performed on Masalma for religious reasons.

In recent months Palestinian organizations representing prisoners have raised frequent complaints of medical negligence in prisons and failure to treat prisoners' health complaints.

Masalma was due to be released on October 1. He was sentenced to 21 months in prison for being in Israel illegally, using a false identity and driving without insurance. His request to be released on probation after completing two thirds of his sentence was rejected.

At first he was imprisoned together with Palestinian security prisoners, but at the family's request was transferred to Ma'asiyahu Prison to serve as a criminal offender.

Prison Service Spokesman Yaron Zamir told Haaretz that prison doctors had examined Masalma several times following his complaints of headaches, coughing and stomach pains. "But no examination indicated that his life was in danger or required special intervention such as hospitalization. During the past month alone, the prisoner was examined four times," he said.

He denied the family's statement that Masalma had been in solitary confinement and said the prison did not have such a cell. However, a former prisoner at Ma'asiyahu told Haaretz that Masalma may have been referring to the prison's "separation room," which unlike a solitary confinement cell does not require a judiciary procedure to put a prisoner in it.

Zamir said that every death in the prison is examined both by police and an inquiry committee.

"The claims of medical negligence are groundless. The medical treatment of criminal and security prisoners is professional and humane," he said.

Since January 15 Jewish prisoners and two Palestinians have died.