JERUSALEM (AFP) - - A human rights group slammed Israeli treatment of Palestinian female prisoners in a UN-sponsored report released, saying pregnant women are often shackled on their way to hospitals to give birth.
The women prisoners are held in “Israeli prisons and detention centres which were designed for men and do not respond to female needs,” said a report by the Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association, which was sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

Pregnant detainees “do not enjoy preferential treatment in terms of diet, living space or transfer to hospitals,” it said. “Pregnant prisoners are also chained to their beds until they enter delivery rooms and shackled once again after giving birth.

“The unbalanced diet, insufficient amounts of protein-rich foods, lack of natural sunlight and movement, poor ventilation and moisture all contribute to the exacerbation and the development of health problems such as skin diseases, anaemia, asthma, prolonged stomach aches, joint and back pains.”

In addition, the majority of the prisoners were “subjected to some form of mental pressure and torture through the process of their arrest,” including beatings, insults, threats, sexual harassment and humiliation techniques.

The vast majority of Palestinian women in Israeli prisons are young — some 13 percent of those arrested in 2007-2008 were under the age of 18 and 56 percent were between 20 and 30 years of age.

The detainees are often denied means to study, which violates their rights to a higher education and suffer from restrictions on visits.

In September 2008, some 60 percent had at least one family member who was not allowed to visit them. Open visits were restricted to mothers once their children reached the age of six.

Female prisoners with a husband or other relatives also in jail were “accorded the right to family visits… after months of delays.”

In addition, the Israeli prison authorities do not provide gender-sensitive rehabilitation programmes, it said.

The report was based on interviews with 125 Palestinian women who were arrested, detained or imprisoned in Israeli jails between November 2007 and November 2008. Of those, some 65 remain in prison — part of some 9,000 Palestinians currently incarcerated in Israel.

A spokesman for the Israeli prison authorities said he was not aware of the report and could not comment.