A detainee sits in solitary confinement in a Ramle prison.
A detainee sits in solitary confinement in a Ramle prison. Photo by Limor Adary
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A petition demanding the Shin Bet security service release figures on the extent to which it prohibits detainees from meeting with lawyers was rejected Tuesday by the High Court of Justice.

The petition was filed jointly in March 2009 by Yesh Din - Volunteers for Human Rights and the Movement for Freedom of Information, after the Prime Minister's Office refused to release such information, claiming Israel's Freedom of Information Law did not apply to the Shin Bet or any data in its possession.

Justices Eliezer Rivlin, Neal Hendel and Salim Joubran accepted the state's argument that releasing such information posed a national security risk.

The petitioners explained that their appeal did not challenge the Shin Bet's authority to prevent detainees from meeting with their lawyers. But in their opinion, concealing such information does not serve Israel's security needs. The only purpose of this strategy, they continued, is to prevent public discussion of whether the Shin Bet maintains a fair balance between security concerns and the need to safeguard detainees' rights.

On May 31, 2010, the state argued that terror organizations would love to obtain the exact figures requested in the petition. After receiving classified information to back up the position of the respondents - the Shin Bet and the Prime Minister's Office - the justices looked for ways to partially accept the petition.

But as Hendel wrote in the ruling, "The detailed explanation of the authorities representing the respondents convinced me that accepting the petition - whether narrowly or broadly - could open a window that at the end of the day could unintentionally aid, to one degree or another, elements that seek to inflict harm on the state."

Up to 90% of prisoners denied counsel

According to a study issued last week by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel and the Palestinian Prisoners' Society, between 70 percent and 90 percent of Palestinian prisoners who are interrogated by the Shin Bet are prevented from meeting with counsel, in violation of a basic principle of Israeli law.

Last month, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a bill extending the amount of time security prisoners can be kept from meeting with an attorney. According to the proposed law, which is expected to be submitted for second and third readings in the Knesset plenum in the near future, a district court could forbid such consultations for a period of up to six months, which could also be renewed once for the same amount of time.

Roy Peled, director of the Movement for Freedom of Information, issued the following response to the High Court ruling: "It is unfortunate that the court allowed the entire issue to take place under cover of darkness, as that provides fertile ground for disproportionate harm to human rights. The harm is currently focused on those suspected of committing security offenses, but by the same token could affect any Israeli of whom the Shin Bet has founded or unfounded suspicions."