DEEPLY embarrassed by the torture and consequent death of a prisoner just a few weeks after they took power, Palestinian officials in Gaza are promising an urgent and open investigation into the affair. ``We are not afraid to give all the information. We have nothing to hide,'' the new Palestinian Justice Minister, Freih Abu Middein, said yesterday. ``All the facts will be released as soon as possible,'' he pledged.
Mr. Abu Middein, sworn in last Tuesday as a member of the Palestinian Authority (PA), was acting to head off an outcry, both in Gaza and abroad, following the death in detention of Farid Jarbou, a 28-year-old resident of Rafah refugee camp.
An official Palestinian Justice Ministry statement released over the weekend acknowledged that Jarbou died as a result of ``excessive violence'' during interrogation. It said his three interrogators had been detained and were being investigated.
Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights organization, said Jarbou's treatment was reminiscent of the way Israeli soldiers dealt with Palestinian suspects during the occupation. ``At this difficult stage, we must not allow such incidents to pass,'' Al-Haq said in a letter to Abu Middein.
Jarbou was suspected of being a collaborator with Israel, according to Gaza security sources, requesting anonymity. He was held for 10 days in Gaza Central Prison, without being charged and without access to a lawyer. He was severely beaten last Monday night by his interrogators, and died within minutes, the sources added.
The incident was reminiscent of countless killings during the intifadah (uprising), when Palestinian militants kidnapped suspected collaborators, interrogated them, and then executed them. This time, however, the militants were wearing police uniforms.
The decision to fully investigate the circumstances surrounding Jarbou's detention and death was endorsed by Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Chairman Yasser Arafat, according to sources familiar with the affair. Mr. Arafat ordered that those responsible for his death be punished.
Jarbou's death was the most serious human rights abuse to come to light since the autonomous Palestinian police took over security duties from Israeli soldiers in mid-May. Officials, however, admit that not all their men are properly disciplined.
``I receive complaints every day, and I try to look into all of them,'' a senior Palestinian security official said yesterday. ``Sometimes it is security men who have committed the violations, sometimes it is people using false ID.'' Most of the violations are minor infractions, he said, such as harassing personal enemies, or policemen making other people do things for them.
Considerable confusion has arisen in the security field here with the creation of four different law enforcement agencies. As well as the National Security Force (the regular police), a Preventive Security agency seeks to forestall trouble; a separate intelligence agency gathers its own information; and a special Presidential Security Unit protects Arafat.
Arafat said last week that all Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli jails under the autonomy agreement should be given posts in one of the security forces. PLO militants who had been on the run from the Israeli authorities have also been incorporated into the police force, although none have police training.
Abu Middein, however, insists that his investigation of Jarbou's death will show that the civilian PA intends to fully control the military and security forces. ``We are not going to compare ourselves with other Arab governments. How can we move to democracy if we don't respect the law?''