Human rights lawyer Diala Ayesh says she has been detained, beaten and sexually assaulted since becoming a target for PA forces
Sitting in her office in downtown Ramallah, Diala Ayesh chain smokes.
Her former job at Lawyers for Justice — an NGO that fights human rights abuse by the Palestinian Authority — has made her a target for the PA security forces, even though she now runs her own legal practice. She can never relax.
Over the years, the 24-year-old human rights lawyer has been detained, beaten and sexually assaulted, she tells the JC, leaving “a profound psychological impact”.
Even when she has been released, the harassment hasn’t stopped. She has been hounded on social media by trolls who claim she is a prostitute and reveal her whereabouts. She lifts her cigarette and takes a deep drag.
“It has been a terrible set of experiences,” she says through the smoke. “They were attacking my profession, lying and defaming me. At the same time, my clients have been through much worse.”
In July last year, Ms Ayesh was arrested during a crackdown following the brutal murder of her friend, human rights campaigner Nizar Banat, by the Palestinian security services. It was the beginning of hell.
“There were so many security men, Ramallah was like a military camp,” she recalls. “I was on my way to my office when I heard that a friend had been arrested. I said to my colleagues, let’s go to show our support, and I will support them as a lawyer.”
Together with a group of activists, lawyers, journalists and other professionals, she headed to the police headquarters in east Ramallah and stood defiantly outside. Then, she says, the onslaught came.
“They attacked the women, pulling our hair, starting with a doctor and a senior engineer,” she says.
“I wanted to go home but one of the security men called me by name, saying ‘Diala, if you try to go I will pepper spray you in the face’. I saw my friends running and started running too, but he chased me.
“His footsteps were behind me. I can still hear the sound of them today. And then he was on me, hitting me on my buttocks and my breasts, hitting me and fondling me, touching me intimately. I told him to stop, but it carried on.”