(Adds questions in Israeli parliament)
LONDON Feb 12 An Australian man committed
suicide in a high-security Israeli jail in 2010 after being held
for months in great secrecy, Australia's ABC channel said on
Tuesday, throwing new light on a case that has rattled Israel.
The unsourced ABC story named the man, known previously only
as "prisoner x", as Ben Zygier. It added that it "understood"
the 34-year-old from Melbourne had been previously recruited by
the Israeli spy agency Mossad.
Within hours of the report surfacing, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu's office summoned Israeli editors to ask them
not to publish a story "that is very embarrassing to a certain
government agency", Israel's Haaretz newspaper said.
"The emergency meeting was called following a broadcast
outside Israel regarding the incident in question," Haaretz
said. Shortly afterwards, all reference to the Australian report
vanished from Israeli news sites -- including Haaretz itself.
Such a gag order is highly unusual in Israel, where state
military censors normally allow local media to quote foreign
sources on controversial incidents -- such as an alleged attack
on Syria last month by the Israeli airforce.
Members of the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem asked Justice
Minister Yaakov Neeman to confirm if the report was true and
demanded to know if other prisoners were being held in secret.
"This matter is not within the jurisdiction of the justice
ministry," Neeman said. "There is no doubt that if this
information is accurate this is something that ought to be
checked," he added.
The state censors gave news outlets in Israel the green
light to report the parliamentary debate but nothing else.
ABC said Zygier, who came from a prominent Jewish family in
Australia, had moved to Israel 10 years before his death and had
taken on the name Ben Alon. He married an Israeli woman and the
pair had two children.
The Australian television channel gave no reason for his
imprisonment, speculating only that it would have had to concern
espionage and sensitive state secrets.
The man's family in Israel and Australia did not immediately
respond to requests for comment. The Australian embassy in Tel
Aviv also declined comment, referring questions back to the
government in Canberra.
ABC said Zygier's imprisonment was so secret that not even
his guards knew his name. However, word got out at the time of a
mysterious prisoner being held incognito and human rights groups
wrote to the state to demand more information.
"It is insupportable that, in a democratic country,
authorities can arrest people in complete secrecy and disappear
them from public view without the public even knowing such an
arrest took place," the Association for Civil Rights in Israel
wrote in June 2010.
When Israel's Ynet website wrote about the case that same
month, the story was quickly removed because of a gag order.
Zygier was allegedly held in Ayalon Prison near Tel Aviv and
was found hanged in his cell in December 2010. Funeral notices
from Australia show that his body was flown back to Melbourne
and that he was buried on Dec. 22.
Pictures of Zygier and his family remain on the Internet.