Saharonim Prison - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - June 2012
Saharonim Prison Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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The Hotline for Migrant Workers human rights organization has filed a petition in Israel’s High Court of Justice against the Israel Prison Service, claiming that prison officials have ceased allowing the organization’s workers and volunteers to visit asylum seekers being held at the Saharonim and Ketziot prisons.

The HMW contends that by forbidding such visits, the prison service is denying asylum seekers their right to representation, liberty and due process of law.

The group also claimed that the decision to ban visits was made without prior warning, despite a written commitment signed by the prison service in 2008 that not only permitted such visits, but also allowed HMW staff to serve as legal representatives for asylum seekers during prison administrative tribunal hearings.

The decision to bar visits makes it impossible to inform asylum seekers of their rights and what they can expect to experience, as well as hindering the identification of possible medical or social welfare problems and the verification of humane prison conditions, the group says. HMW workers also claim that they are unable to assist victims of human trafficking and to offer ongoing assistance for individuals who have filed formal requests for asylum.

The prison service decision is also inconsistent with Israeli law, which clearly recognizes the rights of individuals detained for breaking the laws of entry into Israel and allows them to be legally represented by persons who are not lawyers, while stipulating that all representation must be free of charge (a service that HMW provides).  

“The detention of individuals and their concealment from public view, the attempts to prevent public criticism and acts preventing this group of people from receiving support are actions that have no place in a democratic society that values life,” said attorney Reut Michaeli, HMW’s executive director.

“It seems we’ve learned nothing from history. The government must not ignore imprisoned asylum seekers, but rather guarantee their basic rights as human beings, specifically their right to freedom and due process, and allow those imprisoned to receive the proper support required to file requests for asylum, according to international conventions,” Michaeli said.

The Israel Prison Service has yet to comment.