Jonah Mandel, AFP
Last updated: 25 April, 2013

Israeli jails failed to prevent Prisoner X suicide

Israel’s prison service caused the death of an Australian-Israeli known as “Prisoner X” by failing to prevent him from committing suicide in jail, a court document released on Thursday said.

Prisoner X, who was identified by Australian media as Mossad agent Ben Zygier, was found hanged in his isolation cell in Ayalon prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010 — in a case which Israel went to extreme lengths to cover up.

Israel initially imposed a total media blackout on the case, but was later forced to ease the restrictions after the case made international headlines, later implicitly confirming the case was related to intelligence matters.

The document revealed details on his background and imprisonment, indicating he was suicidal, had had an emotionally-charged exchange with his wife the day he was found hanged, and that his cell was not properly watched by prison guards.

Written at the end of 2010 by Justice Daphna Blatman Kedrai of Rishon LeTzion magistrate’s court, the document was released on Thursday following a petition by the Israeli media.

Australia has long pushed for more details on Zygier’s arrest, detention and suicide.

But it sheds no light on his arrest, his alleged crime or his trial, details of which “remain under gag orders,” wrote Blatman Kedrai.

What it does provide is details on Zygier’s fragile psychological condition, the tearful meeting with his wife on the day of his death and a review of the monitoring practices of the prisoner by the Israel Prison Service.

“The investigation of the sad death of the deceased reveals alleged evidence that negligence by various functionaries in the IPS caused his death,” wrote Blatman Kedrai.

“I have found alleged evidence of the guilt of functionaries in the IPS in causing the deceased’s death,” she said.

After ruling out the direct involvement of anyone else in Zygier’s death, the report notes that when he arrived at Ayalon prison on March 3, 2010, he was suffering from emotional distress.

During his time in Ayalon prison, Zygier was seen 57 times by social workers who found him to be suffering from anxiety and suicidal tendencies.

On the morning of his death, Zygier was visited by his wife and baby daughter but when they left he was extremely distraught.

His wife later returned for several minutes, then left again, also in tears, it said.

Although Zygier’s cell was supposed to be under constant surveillance, including the bathroom area where he eventually hanged himself, a faulty infrared bulb in the shower meant the area was in near total darkness when he took his own life.

Blatman Kedrai also found that the guardroom was not manned at the time of his death, with no-one watching the surveillance cameras, some of which did not work properly.

“The duty of care to him was violated,” she wrote.

Despite the findings, the state attorney’s office said it would not be pressing charges against prison staff.

“It would not be possible to determine with the level of certainty required for criminal proceedings that IPS officials and others involved in the supervision of the deceased should have foreseen his suicide,” a statement said.

“The responsibility for the well-being of a person in IPS custody does not, in and of itself, impose criminal responsibility on any IPS official, where an inmate succeeds in committing suicide,” it concluded.