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Ex-MP kept in Israeli prison refuses to sign ‘false confession’ to be released

Former NDP MP Jim Manly makes a statement in a pre-recorded video released on YouTube on Saturday Oct. 20, 2012, after the Estelle was commandeered by Israeli troops.

CanadaBoatGaza/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Update: Jim Manly has now been released.

An elderly former Canadian MP who is in an Israeli prison for trying to breach a naval blockage of the Gaza Strip is refusing to sign a document that might speed his release.

But Jim Manly's family and supporters say the waiver would force him to admit to a crime he did not commit – and there is no guarantee that the Israelis would set him free immediately if he complies.

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Mr. Manly, a 79-year-old former New Democrat MP, was taken into custody on Saturday along with a number of European opponents of the blockade when the Israeli military boarded a ship that was headed toward Gaza.

Greek and Spanish members of the contingent were allowed to return home on Sunday but Mr. Manly remained behind bars. Those who support his mission complained that Canada, unlike the other countries, had not exerted political pressure to secure his release.

But some of those who were freed had also signed the waiver demanded by the Israelis saying they would not appeal a deportation order. Mr. Manly had not.

"This document contains a false confession, saying he entered Israel illegally," Mr. Manly's son Paul said in a telephone interview Monday. "He didn't enter Israel, he was forced to go to Israel by the Israeli defence forces. The ship was seized in international waters. It was on its way to Gaza."

And Ehab Lotayef, a spokesman for Canadian Boat to Gaza, the organization that helped organize Mr. Manly's mission, said signing the document is not necessarily a ticket to freedom.

Mr. Lotayef was captured by the Israelis in 2011 when he took part in a similar attempt to breach the blockade. He said he too was asked to sign the waiver.

"And I did sign less than five hours after being in detention," he said Monday. "Most of my colleagues who were with me on the two boats last year refused to sign. We were not treated differently in any way. I was only released with the others six days later."

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This year, said Mr. Lotayef, a large number of the detainees are refusing to sign the waiver.

Israel has maintained a naval blockade since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, saying its aim is to prevent weapons smuggling.

Canadian consular officials in Tel Aviv and in Ottawa have been monitoring the situation closely and talking with Israelis since before the boat was boarded. They have also been in touch with Mr. Manly's family and have talked with him directly.

But representatives of the Conservative government, which has been a strong supporter of Israel, expressed little interest when asked if Ottawa will exert political pressure to secure Mr. Manly's release.

"We have strongly urged those wishing to deliver humanitarian goods to the Gaza Strip to do so through established channels. Unauthorized efforts to deliver aid are provocative and, ultimately, unhelpful to the people of Gaza," Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, said Monday.

"Canada recognizes Israel's legitimate security concerns," said Mr. Roth, "and its right to protect itself and its residents from attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including by preventing the smuggling of weapons."

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Mr. Manly is a former United Church minister who served as a New Democrat MP for eight years in the 1980s.

Paul Manly said Paul Dewar, the NDP foreign affairs critic, has called him to express concern. But Mr. Manly said he is disappointed that the party has not been publicly vocal in support of his father.

"Whether they support the people of Palestine or not," said Mr. Manly, "they have a duty to speak out on behalf of their constituents when they are in these situations."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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