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Prisoner X should not exist


On Tuesday night, Foreign Correspondent aired the findings of an investigation into the identity of Israel’s Prisoner X. The case has since attracted intense international media interest and shone a scorching spotlight onto Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs. But the questions raised regarding the case of Prisoner X have much wider implications not only for expat Australians, but for foreign nationals in any country.

For those who missed it, Foreign Correspondent documented a case where, in 2010, a man was held in an Israeli prison in ‘complete seclusion’ for reasons of ‘national security’. His gaolers didn’t know his identity or why he was there. The circumstances surrounding his imprisonment were so secret that the equivalent of a D-notice was issued to suppress not only any information about the prisoner and his circumstances being reported, but even the mention of the D-notice itself was forbidden. Then, in December 2010, Prisoner X committed suicide, in a heavily-guarded and supposedly suicide-proof gaol cell.

Foreign Correspondent speculated that Prisoner X was an Australian, Ben Zygier. It appears that DFAT knew of Zygier’s imprisonment in early 2010, and his subsequent suicide ten months later. At no time was any consular support extended to him or his family.

One report has linked Zygier to the Australian passport scandal in January 2010, where Mossad agents used duplicate Australian passports to travel to Dubai where they assassinated a Hamas official. Foreign Correspondent speculated that the nature of Zygier’s imprisonment – the secrecy and the suppression order – meant that the reason had to be something ‘touchy’ and ‘immediate’. The passport scandal certainly fits that profile.

While the circumstances surrounding this case are unsettling, the questions it raises are more chilling. How is it that a person can be detained in a maximum security environment without their gaolers even knowing their name? Why the need for such incredible secrecy surrounding an individual’s identity and imprisonment? And what might have happened to Zygier, had he lived? Would he have been kept in those same conditions, or would he have been secretly transferred to an even more notorious prison?

More importantly, did the Israeli government act alone, or were other foreign agencies complicit in this conspiracy?

The very notion of a Prisoner X should not exist because this type of imprisonment is illegal under international law. How many other people have found themselves in comparable circumstances? And are their governments really doing everything possible to assist the nameless ‘disappeared’?


You can catch the full episode of Foreign Correspondent here.

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