A top-secret Israeli-Australian prisoner jailed on security grounds gave no indication he was about to commit suicide, an Israeli lawyer who met him just days before his death said on Thursday.
“When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide,” said Avigdor Feldman, a top human rights lawyer who met the man known as Ben Zygier before he was found hanged in his cell at Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv in December 2010.
According to Australian broadcaster ABC, which broke the story on Tuesday, Zygier was a 34-year-old native of Melbourne who moved to Israel in 2001 and was working for Israel’s Mossad spy agency.
Although Israel has admitted jailing a man with dual nationality who ended his own life in December 2010, all other details about why he was arrested are subjected to a tight gag order.
A journalist who interviewed an Australian Jew shortly before he was detained by Israeli authorities and came to be known as "Prisoner X" said Thursday the man strenuously denied being a spy.
The reporter added that he thought it was possible his interviews with Zygier were under Israeli surveillance.
In an interview with Israel’s army radio, Feldman said he had met the man formerly known as “Prisoner X” to offer him advice ahead of his trial.
“His family asked that I meet him to advise him. The trial hadn’t properly started yet,” he said, indicating the prisoner had already been indicted and that talks were under way with senior prosecutors to reach a plea bargain.
“He asked for advice and I sat and listened to him. Not that I’m a psychologist, but he appeared rational, focused, he spoke clearly about the issue and didn’t exude any sense of self-pity.”
A day or two later, Feldman’s liaison at the prison rang him to say the prisoner had died.
The lawyer admitted he was surprised “that a man who was being held in a cell like that, a cell which was being monitored and checked 24-hours a day, could manage to commit suicide by hanging himself.”
Feldman, who said he knew the prisoner’s real name and had access to the file on his arrest but was unable to give any details for legal reasons, said it was clear the detainee was facing a very long jail term.
“I understood that he was told he was likely to face the longest possible jail term and that he was likely to be ostracized by his family,” he said.
Until Wednesday night, Israel imposed a complete media blackout on the details of the case, but after easing the restrictions somewhat, the justice ministry admitted jailing an Australian with Israeli nationality on security grounds who had taken his own life in December 2010.
It said an inquest into his death had rendered a verdict of suicide in a decision reached just six weeks ago.