Prison Officers Suspended Over Be'er Sheva Lynch of Eritrean Asylum Seeker

Ronen Cohen and Hananya Shabbat were arrested for setting upon Haftom Zarhun, who died from his wounds after being mistaken for Be’er Sheba bus station terrorist.

Almog Ben Zikri
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Haftom Zarhum, who was killed by a mob wrongly suspecting him of terrorism on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.
Haftom Zarhum, who was killed by a mob wrongly suspecting him of terrorism on Monday, Oct. 19, 2015.
Almog Ben Zikri

The Israel Prison Service has suspended two staffers because of their involvement in lynching an Eritrean asylum seeker during last month’s terror attack in Be’er Sheva’s central bus station. Several people present mistakenly thought Haftom Zarhum was a terrorist and attacked him. He was shot and beaten, and later died of his injuries.

After officer Ronen Cohen and warden Hananya Shabbat were arrested for the assault, the prison service issued a statement denouncing their actions. A few days later, it said it would institute proceedings to suspend them until criminal proceedings are concluded. Suspension requires a disciplinary hearing, which was held for Cohen on October 29 and Shabbat a few days later. But only on Monday were the two formally notified that they are being suspended. The prison service said the suspension will remain in effect until legal proceedings against them have ended, after which it will decide whether to retain them in its ranks.

Cohen’s attorney, Zion Amir, told Haaretz that the prosecution still hasn’t definitely decided to indict his client, and if it decided not to press charges, Cohen’s suspension would end immediately. “Therefore, this is a reversible and temporary decision,” he said. “We’ll wait for the prosecution’s decision.”

The prosecution has previously announced a tentative decision to indict three of the four people arrested for lynching Zarhum, including Cohen and Shabbat. But the decision won’t become final until prosecutors grant the men a hearing. The planned charge is aggravated battery, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail. Cohen is also slated to be charged with assaulting a civilian who tried to stop the lynching.

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