Middle East Eye / August 30, 2023
A Palestinian community leader involved in humanitarian work has been in pre-trial detention since June.
A new campaign is calling for the immediate release of Amin Abu Rashed, a Palestinian community leader involved in humanitarian work in the Middle East, from prison in the Netherlands.
Abu Rashed was detained by Dutch authorities on 22 June, with Israeli media saying that he was part of the “large-scale financing” of Hamas, in breach of EU sanctions.
Public prosecutors have said that Abu Rashed is “sponsoring terrorism”, with “newspaper articles about a Hamas fundraiser in Europe” being the reason behind the start of their investigations.
According to reports, his house was searched in Leidschendam, where cash was seized, and his bank account, with a balance of around $820,000, blocked until further notice.
The campaign calling for all charges to be dropped against the activist was launched by Samidoun, a grassroots and advocacy organization calling for justice for Palestinian prisoners.
The organization, which has offices around the world, has raised concerns over his medical condition, reporting that he suffers from high blood pressure and limited mobility.
Oscar Bergamin, Abu Rashed’s campaign spokesperson, told Middle East Eye that holding him in pretrial detention has hindered his ability to defend his case or speak about his situation.
“In Holland, you can be taken into custody or in pre-trial detention for very simple reasons, even when there is no evidence,” he said.
“He was taken based on very old material and newspaper articles and made-up accusations from Israel.”
Bergamin said he had a phone conversation with Abu Rashed last week, where the activist explained that he has been investigated over his social media pages, where he shares his charitable efforts.
“He was being questioned for three days over photos and connections he posted on Facebook, so there was nothing about banks and financial transactions to so-called Hamas-type people,” he said.
Bergamin, who describes himself as a “close friend” of Abu Rashed’s, also recalled how they both flew together to Lebanon following the devastating port blast in 2020 that claimed the lives of around 200 people.
He said they had set up a campaign to care for the wounded and given out blankets and food to those affected.
The spokesperson believes that Abu Rashed has been targeted over a conference he was leading for Palestinians in Europe, which the Israeli ambassador in Sweden reportedly wanted to stop.
Abu Rashed is believed to be an advisor to the humanitarian organization Stichting Israa (Israa Foundation) based in Rotterdam.
The organization’s Instagram page shows Ramadan food distributions in Lebanon, the distribution of food parcels in the occupied West Bank, as well as blankets being given out to people affected by the 2023 Turkey–Syria earthquakes.
Abu Rashed, a father of two, is currently being held in Sittard prison, a three-hour drive from his family home close to Rotterdam.
The 56-year-old moved to the Netherlands in 1992, where he regularly organizes community events to empower Palestinians in the country, plans demonstrations and raises funds to support disadvantaged people living in refugee camps across occupied Palestine.
His lawyer, Nick van Breman, says there is not much evidence against Abu Rashed.
“We don’t see any evidence that can support the allegation that he is transferring money to Hamas. There is still an investigation running, but we believe in the innocence of our client and we’ve spoken to him many times recently,” he told MEE.
One challenge they have faced is the Netherlands’ laws on pre-trial detention.
“A lot of arguments are not researched at this time of trial, they are just looking at the case,” he said.
“This gives them enough time to find that there is at least some suspicion, which doesn’t mean there will be a conviction, but suspicion is enough to hold someone in detention until trial.”
The lawyer also said that they are currently working on a report calling for his release from detention until his trial, as such cases can take a long time in the Netherlands, sometimes up to three or four years.
Bergamin said that Abu Rashed is disabled and due to his health concerns is required to regularly see a specialist.
“He needs medical attention; it is important that he gets his freedom back instead of sitting behind bars,” said Bergamin, adding that Abu Rashed’s family is still “in shock” over his arrest.
They also condemned the Dutch decision to detain Abu Rashed, saying that it “lacks legal evidence”.
On Monday, the PCPA issued a statement saying that Abu Rashed is being “subject to an arbitrary detention which is a violation of international law,” and that his detention is a result of “pressure from the Israeli lobby which defames Palestinians and everyone who works for the sake of their cause”.
Many social media users have participated in the campaign for Abu Rashed’s release, posting his photos and raising awareness of his case.
Abu Rashed has repeatedly denied claims that he works for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization in the Netherlands and the European Union, as well as in the United Kingdom.
The first public hearing is set to take place on 4 October in a courtroom in Rotterdam.
Nadda Osman is a British-Egyptian journalist and editor based in the UK