Ayalon Prison
The entrance of Ayalon Prison last year. Photo by Moti Milrod
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In the wake of the affair about a prisoner who committed suicide in Israel's Ayalon Prison in 2010, which made new headlines when it was reported in the Australian press on Tuesday, the country's justice system made two significant changes when it comes to gag orders First, the Knesset for the first time recognized the status of Israel's press as an official participant in legal hearings on lifting gag orders; Second, the attorney general instructed the police to examine the need for continuing to enforce gag orders once they are no longer deemed necessary. Currently, the court has the right to prevent publication indefinitely.

These changes were introduced after MK Nachman Shai (Labor) proposed a bill at the height of the affair, which came to light in 2010. His bill called for gag orders issued by the police to be valid for only one week. His proposal allowed for judges to approve extensions of the gag order for two additional weeks at a time. The proposed law aimed to prevent the legal establishment from concealing cases from the Israeli public that are already being publicized in foreign media.

Shai also surmised that limiting the timeframe for gag orders would obligate the police to conduct faster, more efficient investigations. The bill was passed in its preliminary reading in the Knesset, but the Justice Ministry opposed it and intervened to keep it stuck in committee.

The bill was thus shelved and only the two changes involving Knesset recognition of the role of the press regarding gag orders and the attorney general's instruction to the police came about.

Shai is currently pushing another proposal, initiated by Kadima MK Ruhama Avraham in the previous Knesset session, which would prohibit the media from identifying Israeli intelligence agents.

During the period that MK Shai's bill was raised, a number of affairs were permitted for publication after the details had already been released in foreign media. These include the Anat Kamm affair, the Amir Makhoul affair, and the Holyland affair.