NINE days after three former Guantanamo prisoners who had been relocated to Slovakia launched a hunger strike to protest the conditions in which they are being held here, local media reported that they have agreed to begin eating again after discussions with Slovak officials resolved some of theirs concerns.
The detainees – Adil al-Gazzar from Egypt, Pooland Tsiradzo from Azerbaijan and Rafik al-Hami from Tunisia – disclosed their identities to the Slovak media on June 24, shortly after announcing their hunger strike. It was later reported that only two of them actually refused food.
The three, who were transferred from the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, arrived in Slovakia in January this year. On June 24 they contacted Amnesty International Slovensko (AIS). Branislav Tichý, the director of AIS, announced on the same day that the three detainees had reported that they were being held in poor conditions at the detention facility in Medveďov, Trnava Region, and had claimed that they were being mistreated by the Slovak authorities. Through AIS, they announced they were going on a hunger strike to protest their conditions.
Tichý stated that the detainees were not allowed contact with anyone except detention centre personnel and their lawyer. He described their living conditions as poor, saying they have only a bed and a sink at their disposal and are allowed to leave their rooms for only one hour each day, the TASR newswire wrote.
The Interior Ministry’s Migration Bureau chief officer, Bernard Priecel, told TASR in response to the claims that there was no reason for the hunger strike as Slovak officials are maintaining “high security and re-integration standards”. Priecel said that the detainees are receiving personal care including psychological treatment and Slovak-language lessons, TASR reported.
The detainees’ decision to end their hunger strike came on July 2, after they had talked to Slovak officials.
“Some of our problems had been resolved,” said al-Gazzar, as quoted by the Sme daily. “Others remain, but we will cooperate with the Slovak government on solving them, so that we fully integrate into Slovak society.”
One of the officials who met and spoke to the three men was Peter Kresák, the Head of the UNHCR National Office.
Kresák said he believed the increased discontent of the three men was a result of limited communication from some official representatives in the post-election period. According to him, the men felt their situation was not being addressed promptly and that their personal freedom was limited.
“We communicated this information to the Slovak government and we are glad that they immediately took the necessary steps to end the misunderstandings,” Kresák told The Slovak Spectator. Asked whether the appointment of the new minister could help to solve the situation faster, Kresák said the UNHCR expects the government to fulfil its international obligations regardless of who occupies the ministerial chair.
According to him, the situation surrounding the former Guantanamo prisoners is a non-standard one and that therefore there is no normal solution that can be applied. He said the government had worked out an integration plan according to the information that was available to it.
“It’s understandable that there is always a certain disproportion between the expectations and the real possibilities and also that there are always a number of possible solutions,” Kresák said.
After news of their situation emerged from the Medveďov camp, the Slovak media managed to contact the detainees and later revealed their identity.
The Egyptian detainee, Al-Gazzar, gave an interview to the Sme daily over the phone on June 24 in which he claimed that all three men are being held indoors, under guard, and are permitted to go outside only one hour a day. He called the conditions “a 100-percent prison”.
“Even in Guantanamo it was better,” al-Gazzar told Sme. “We could communicate with everyone; here we cannot.”
Al-Gazzar served as an officer in the Egyptian army until 1990, when he started working as an accountant. According to documents from US tribunals published by The New York Times, he was detained in December 2001 in Pakistan, where he was preaching Islam.
Tsiradzo was the only Azeri prisoner in Guantanamo. He served in Azerbaijan’s army for one and a half years before leaving in 2000 to study Arabic and the Quran in Afghanistan. He was detained in 2001 while guarding a food storage area, armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle.
Al-Hami, a Tunisian, was detained in Iran in 2002 and stated that he had spent some time in a training camp and learned to use a Kalashnikov, but later claimed he had made the statements because he was tortured by American soldiers.
The current status of the three, and the grounds on which they are being detained in Slovakia, is unclear. An unnamed lawyer from the British legal charity Reprieve who is acting for al-Gazzar was reported by the local media to be in Slovakia in early July, but refused to comment on their situation.
12. Jul 2010 at 0:00 | Michaela Terenzani