Six people who were arrested during a protest against the government’s Bedouin resettlement plan are still under house arrest 10 months after the incident, in what several lawyers say exceeds the accepted norm in similar cases.
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“The punishment and deterrence exceeds what is legally permitted,” said Gabi Lasky, a lawyer who has represented many protesters. “Mass deterrence is an invalid consideration because being held in custody during legal proceedings is not supposed to be a punishment.”
Like several other legal professionals, Lasky said it was rare for defendants to be placed under house arrest for so long in similar cases, adding: “When you’re talking about a specific incident like a protest or one-time behavior, leaving them under house arrest for many months is not justified.”
Aram Mahameed, a lawyer for the Adalah advocacy center for Arab rights in Israel, said the court must treat each case separately rather than lumping together all six protesters, who were arrested along with dozens of others during a demonstration at Hura Junction in the Negev on November 30 last year , as part of a “day of rage” against the Prawer-Begin Plan.
The controversial government plan, which has since been suspended, calls for resettling some 30,000 Negev Bedouin and sorting out their land claims.
“They’re accusing all of us of the same crimes, and there are things I did not do,” said one of the protesters under house arrest, a 23-year-old man who asked to be identified only by the initial S.
He said he has paid 90,000 shekels for legal help so far and is now supported by his parents and can’t leave his house. “Going to that demonstration was the mistake of my life,” he said.
When the demonstration eventually turned violent, 34 people were arrested, among them 15 minors. Fourteen policemen were injured, and police equipment and public property were damaged.
The six under house arrest are charged with assaulting policemen, rioting and damaging police property. In two weeks a hearing is scheduled for some of the six in an attempt to ease their conditions. Two of them are under house arrest in a city other than where they live.
Two other demonstrators have been convicted and sentenced. Because one had a police record, he was sentenced to 11 months in prison, which he is serving.
“At issue are indictments that were filed against 20 accused — adults and minors — charging them with aggravated assault of policemen, rioting and damaging property,” prosecutors said in a statement. “Under these circumstances, the prosecution believes there is no choice but to impose meaningful sentences on the accused that will deter others.”
On Monday, the Be’er Sheva District Court convicted a 16-year-old of throwing stones at policemen, harming police horses and damaging patrol cars. Since he had no previous record, he was sentenced to four months of community service.
Osama Nasasra, 19, is still under house arrest while awaiting a verdict in his case; he is allowed to leave home for a few hours a day to work. “Later this month we’ll go to court and see what the decision is,” he told Haaretz. “They’re asking for 22 months in prison.”
Attorney Boaz Kenig, who is representing Nasasra and another detainee, says the prosecutors are being too harsh.
“These are young men with no criminal record,” said Kenig. “It isn’t right that they’ve been in detention so long and that harsh sentences are being requested, like 15 or 22 months in prison.”
In June, the Negev Coexistence Forum for Civil Equality issued a report on the demonstration, saying that police and prosecutors hindered freedom of expression and aimed to deter future protests via serious charges and lengthy detentions.