Australian television network ABC aired an investigation Tuesday revealing that an Australian national who was held in complete isolation at the Ayalon Prison in Ramla, had died in his cell. According to official documents, he committed suicide.
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Investigations by the ABC's Foreign Correspondent program, which were cleared for publication in Israel on Wednesday, have revealed Ben Zygier, who used the name Ben Alon in Israel, was found hanged in a high-security cell at a prison near Tel Aviv in late 2010.
His body was flown to Melbourne for burial a week later.
The death goes part of the way to explain the existence in Israel of a so-called Prisoner X, widely speculated in local and international media as an inmate whose presence has been acknowledged by neither the jail system nor the government.
The case is regarded as one of the most sensitive secrets of Israel's intelligence community, with the government going to extraordinary lengths to stifle media coverage and gag attempts by human rights organisations to expose the situation.
The Prisoner X cell is a jail within a jail at Ayalon Prison in the city of Ramla. It was built for the assassin of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
Simulation of Zygier's passport
The ABC understands Zygier became its occupant in early 2010. His incarceration was so secret that it is claimed not even guards knew his identity.
Israeli media at the time reported that this Prisoner X received no visitors and lived hermetically sealed from the outside world.
Foreign correspondent revealed that Zygier was 34 at the time of his death and had moved to Israel about 10 years earlier. He was married to an Israeli woman and had two small children.
Zygier's arrest and jailing in Israel remains a mystery, but the ABC understands he was recruited by spy agency Mossad.
Gag order presented in Australian report
It is understood Zygier "disappeared" in early 2010, spending several months in the Prisoner X cell.
At the time, human rights organisation Association for Civil Rights in Israel criticised the imprisonment and wrote to Israel's attorney-general.
"It's alarming that there's a prisoner being held incommunicado and we know nothing about him," wrote the association's chief legal counsel Dan Yakir.
The assistant to the attorney-general wrote back: "The current gag order is vital for preventing a serious breach of the state's security, so we cannot elaborate about this affair."
Contacted by the ABC, Yakir would not comment on the case, quoting a court order gagging discussion.
Bill van Esveld, a Jerusalem-based advocate for Human Rights Watch, has described the secret imprisonment of Prisoner X as "inexcusable".
"It's called a disappearance, and a disappearance is not only a violation of that person's due process rights - that's a crime," he told Foreign Correspondent.
"Under international law, the people responsible for that kind of treatment actually need to be criminally prosecuted themselves."
Zygier's wedding in Israel
Zygier's apparent suicide in prison adds to the mystery. He was found hanged in a cell which was equipped with state-of-the-art surveillance systems installed to prevent suicide. Guards reportedly tried unsuccessfully to revive him.
His body was retrieved and flown to Melbourne. He was buried in Chevra Kadisha Jewish cemetery in the suburb of Springvale on December 22, seven days after his death.
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Wednesday in response to the investigation that contrary to international conventions, Australian diplomats in Israel learned about Zygier's story only after his death.
"Those allegations certainly do trouble me,” Carr told ABC. "I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government about what happened."
Asked whether he would ask Israel about the case, he said: “The difficulty is I'm advised we've had no contact with his family (and) there's been no request for consular assistance during the period it's alleged he was in prison."
He added that without a complaint there was little he could do.
Australian newspaper Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that Carr's office revealed an Australian diplomat was aware Zygier had been detained in an Israeli prison before his death in 2010.
A spokesman for Carr corrected previous statements by the government that it knew nothing of the Zygier case until the prisoner died and his relatives – a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne – asked for his body to be repatriated.
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