Israeli PM defiant in prisoner row
Published 17/02/2013 | 08:01
Israel's prime minister has defended the actions of his country's security forces following a public uproar over the mysterious death of a man who apparently hanged himself while being held secretly in a maximum-security prison.
Israel has said little about the case, but Australian media have said the man, identified as Ben Zygier, was an Australian immigrant to Israel who served in the Mossad spy agency at the time of his death in December 2010. Zygier was reportedly imprisoned for unspecified security offences.
In his first comments on the affair, Benjamin Netanyahu said he "completely trusts" Israel's security forces and legal system.
He said that freedom of expression is important, but Israel faces extraordinary threats and therefore must keep silent on some details of national security affairs like this one.
"We are not like all other countries," Mr Netanyahu told his Cabinet. "We are more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper activity of our security forces.
"Allow the security forces to work quietly so we can continue to live securely and safely," he added.
The affair, suppressed by Israeli authorities until Australia's national broadcaster broke the story last week, has shone a rare spotlight on the murky dealings of Mossad and brought scrutiny on Israel's system of military censorship and gag orders.
Critics have accused the Israeli government of trying to cover up the affair and are demanding a full investigation, fuelling a debate about balancing national security and freedom of information in a country that prides itself as a vibrant democracy. Israeli officials have said that while the matter was kept from the public, the prisoner was given legal representation and maintained contact with his family.
The matter has also strained relations with Australia, a close ally of Israel.
Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, on Sunday demanded that Israel provide information on the prisoner for an Australian investigation into his death.