Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Judge acquits Arab protesters, slams Israel Police for trumped-up charges

The Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court acquitted Tuesday morning three young Arab women and a young Arab man of the offenses of participating in an illegal assembly, causing a disturbance and assaulting police officers, during a demonstration against Operation Cast Lead in 2008.

In his verdict, Judge Ido Druyan strongly criticized the police and prosecution, saying there was no fear of a disturbance during the gathering and "certainly there was no justification for the hasty and sloppy submission of this failed indictment."

Orna Cohen, a lawyer from the Adalah Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, who represented the defendants, said that "the court's decision today proves what we have been saying for a long time – that the police treats Arab demonstrators in an illegal manner, disperses demonstrations illegally and files indictments that have no legal or factual basis."

According to the indictment, in December 2008 the accused gathered alongside others in Basel Street in Tel Aviv, near the Egyptian embassy. They participated in a demonstration of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, against the war in Gaza. According to the charges, the accused shouted, swore and held Palestine Liberation Organization flags in their hands.

After several skirmishes developed with protesters from another camp, the police asked the demonstrators to leave the area. The defendants allegedly refused to leave and started to cause a disturbance, run riot and to attack police officers, using the sticks of their flags among other things, according to the indictment.

The judge ruled the police's assessment that the demonstration the accused had participated in "damaged the nation's morale" was a strange and unacceptable assertion.

As part of the prosecution's evidence, the police submitted a CD-ROM that included a film shot by a police photographer during the event. The judge's ruling stated that the video footage completely contradicted the testimony of one of the officers, who said that the demonstration was violent. With regards to the circumstances surrounding the arrest of one of the defendants, the judge ruled that there was a huge gap between the police reports and the footage, which completely refuted the officer's version of events, and had served as the basis for the charges against her.

"The prosecution does not have one shred of evidence that could – even at the most basic theoretical level – point to the accused as guilty of participating in an illegal assembly. I also rule that there were not even the most basic grounds for the fear of breaching public peace or security, which is the only thing that could justify the conviction of the accused for this behavior." In summary, Judge Druyan said, "The phenomenon of indictments against demonstrators is repeated again and again, while the factual claims are refuted by footage from the police or other sources."

Druyan ordered the verdict be passed on to senior officers in the Tel Aviv district and countrywide in order for them to learn a lesson from the affair. More