The Jerusalem police will have to pay a total of NIS 25,000 in compensation to four left-wing Israeli activists who were held under false arrest in February, the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court ruled yesterday.

"The right to demonstrate or express an opinion is deeply embedded in the foundations of democratic government," Judge Haim Li-Ran wrote in his ruling.

The four activists were detained for questioning in early February while demonstrating outside municipal offices in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, to protest city approval of a plan to expand the Jewish section of the neighborhood. Police argued that the protesters were participating in an illegal demonstration and constituted a danger to public safety, but released them after they failed to get a court order barring the activists from protesting in Jerusalem for six months.

The protesters - Dorit Argo, Matan Edelman and siblings Sara and Tzvi Benninga - are members of the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, which holds weekly demonstrations to protest Jews living in the predominantly Arab neighborhood.

Li-Ran said the police request to prevent them from participating in future demonstrations was a "worrying condition" that he fears might be linked to "a dangerous atmosphere that attempts to minimize freedom of speech."

In another recent case, police agreed to compensate a left-wing protester NIS 1,000 without going through the courts.

Amiel Vardi was arrested in Sheikh Jarrah twice, with police arguing both times that Vardi had violated the conditions of his previous release, even though those conditions were declared invalid by the Jerusalem District Court.