Israel Imprisons Two Eritrean Immigrants Without Trial

A new procedure allows the state to imprison illegal immigrants indefinitely even if there is no evidence against them or the case has been closed. Neither the police nor the Immigration Authority is willing to take responsibility.

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

Three months ago, a woman filed a rape complaint at a local police station. The man she accused was locked up immediately. When the woman returned to the police station to confess that the accusation had been false, she was arrested as well. Both the woman, who is pregnant, and the man against whom she filed a false complaint have spent the past three months in prison.

The man and woman are immigrants from Eritrea. Their imprisonment is an example of a procedure Israel has been using recently to deal with what it terms “infiltrators involved in criminal proceedings.” The procedure allows illegal immigrants to be imprisoned indefinitely under administrative detention, even if there is not enough evidence to bring them to trial or the case has been closed for lack of public interest. In certain cases, even people who committed crimes and served their sentences have been imprisoned again. The procedure has been used in dozens of cases so far.

The Court for the Review of Custody of Infiltrators, which has dealt with such cases, criticized the procedure, stating that under certain circumstances it “serves as a route that bypasses criminal proceedings.” Human-rights activists warn that the procedure is dangerous not only because it takes away the immigrants’ right to a fair trial, but also because it may prevent them from going to the police to complain if someone has harmed them. They fear that the moment immigrants become involved in a procedure or a counterclaim is submitted against them, they will be the ones imprisoned indefinitely. Since the procedure also prevents the state from investigating the case properly, in some instances, criminals will be left on the streets.

The procedure for “dealing with infiltrators involved in criminal proceedings” is derived from the Prevention of Infiltration Law, which defines infiltrators as people who enter Israel without going through a border station, even if Israel’s policy defines them as having the right to protection due to the situation in their country because Israel is a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

According to the procedure, when an illegal immigrant is involved in criminal proceedings, the police must transfer him or her to the Immigration Authority. The Immigration Authority, in its turn, issues a deportation order against the immigrant that can also be used as a warrant for administrative detention. But the deportation order cannot be carried out, because most of the African immigrants in Israel are under protection as a group, which keeps them from being deported. The procedure allows them to be imprisoned indefinitely, without the possibility of a fair trial.

The case recounted at the beginning of this article stands out even more because of another clause in the procedure. The clause states that for the procedure to be applied to an “infiltrator,” the crime in question must endanger national security or the public welfare. As stated, these two people have been imprisoned for three months over a false accusation. The woman, an Eritrean national who cannot be deported, claimed that she had been raped by a male acquaintance but confessed three days later that the accusation had been false. Upon her confession, she was taken into custody. Her confession also changed nothing for the man she had accused, also an Eritrean national and the victim of a false accusation.

Officials of the Hotline for Migrant Workers asked the Court for the Review of Custody of Infiltrators to release the woman. But Judge Ruti Greenberg ruled that she must remain in custody, writing in her decision: “I do not think it appropriate to go into other issues such as whether her action endangers the public welfare.” In response, hotline officials appealed the ruling at the Court for Administrative Affairs in the central district. Only after the appeal was filed, and several days before the hearing on the case, which was to be held Tuesday, the state announced unexpectedly that instead of defending its position and justifying the pregnant woman’s months-long imprisonment in court, it was willing to release her from custody. In accordance with that, a compromise statement was submitted to the court two days ago.

Now comes another absurdity. The woman, who had legal representation at this point, will be released. But the man, whom she admitted she had accused falsely, will remain in custody even though there is no case against him.

Attorney Asaf Weitzan, who is representing the woman for the hotline, said the procedure the state uses “opens the door widely to the exploitation of and contempt for criminal proceedings in dealing with asylum-seekers.” He added, “The fact that the woman is pregnant, an asylum-seeker and complained about a sex crime exposes the abuse committed against her by the police and the Interior Ministry.” He noted that the procedure is contrary to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, unreasonable and disproportionate in the extreme.

Neither the Interior Ministry’s Immigration Authority nor the Israel Police were willing to take responsibility or to comment on the affair. When Haaretz asked officials at the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority to justify the imprisonment of the Eritrean man and woman, an Authority spokesperson referred Haaretz to the police – who, in turn, referred Haaretz to the Immigration Authority.

An Eritrean migrant waiting to cross into Israel.Credit: Reuters

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