menuchin - Haaretz News - March 15 2010
Public Committee against Torture in Israel executive director, Dr. Ishai Menuchin. Photo by Haaretz News
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The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill yesterday that would allow the state to prevent detainees suspected of security offenses from meeting with an attorney for up to one year.

The bill, introduced by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, aims to keep lawyers from helping their clients "carry out offenses that endanger the security of the public or the state from within jail."

If passed, the bill would authorize the prison director to prevent a detainee from meeting with an attorney for up to seven days, instead of the current maximum period of 24 hours. The commissioner of the Israel Prison Service would be able to extend the prohibition for up to 90 additional days, with the approval of the state prosecutor or deputy prosecutor, instead of the current maximum of five days.

The district court could order additional extensions of the prohibition of up to six months at a time, for a total period of up to one year. The current limit is 21 days.

The Public Committee against Torture in Israel called the prohibition of client-attorney meetings a "mortal blow to the basic rights of Palestinian prisoners in Israel."

According to the organization's executive director, Ishai Menuchin, "The ministerial committee is trying to carry out a 'surgical strike' against human rights in a democratic society. We must not forget that even 'security suspects' have human rights."

Officials from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said the bill's provisions allow prison authorities and the state prosecution to prevent attorney-client meetings for extended periods of time, without judicial involvement, based on general assessments only.

Lila Margalit, ACRI's attorney for criminal justice issues, appealed in writing to the public security minister's attorney. "The existing law already contains problematic directives that let the prison service and the state prosecution - followed by the court - prevent a prisoner from meeting with a particular lawyer for an extended period when it is suspected that the meeting will be exploited for criminal activity or even serious prison disciplinary infractions," the letter stated.

"These draconian directives already enable great damage to a prisoner's right to consult with a lawyer of his choosing, without due process and based on confidential material. Now the Public Security Ministry wants to give free rein and permit unacceptable intervention in attorney activities, even in the absence of concrete evidence of criminal activity.

"The bill also seeks to significantly extend the duration for which these restrictions can be imposed, whether before receiving judicial approval or with court approval, and in so doing to erode in a dangerous manner the few existing guarantees ... to prevent exploitation."