Three protesters who provided testimony about the alleged deliberate hit and run at a demonstration in Tel Aviv last week were turned into criminal suspects and interrogated while providing their testimony. The three, including a female protester who was injured lightly in the incident, were questioned on suspicion of causing a public disturbance and violating government regulations.
Two of the witnesses answered a call from police to the public to provide more information on the car ramming, and the third was brought in by police to provide testimony at 1 A.M. Friday, after he tweeted that the suspect in the car ramming had threatened him. Dorit Zack, who was injured in the collision, said: “Only in retrospect did I understand that what I went through was a criminal interrogation, when I was actually the victim.”
On Thursday, Pini Luzon allegedly accelerated his car toward protesters in Tel Aviv and injured Zack. Luzon said he got caught up in the protest by chance, was surrounded by protesters who broke his windshield and he felt his life was in danger. He was arrested and questioned that same night and on Sunday the court ordered him released to house arrest. The day after the incident, police called on the public and asked witnesses and those involved in the incident to come to a police station and file a complaint “in order to clarify the full picture.”
On Friday, Zack received a document from the police with the title: “Summons to provide testimony.” She appeared at the Lev Tel Aviv police station, but there it turned out that she was questioned as a suspect in violating regulations and causing a public disturbance. She said she didn’t realize at the time she was being investigated, said Zack, 51, from Tel Aviv.
“I went to the station near the train and the investigator told me she wanted an officer to be present,” Zack said. “I said ‘OK,’ and then she read me the sentences that said that I was investigated under caution [as a criminal suspect], and the investigator told me that anything I say could be used against me and that I could consult with a lawyer, that I was being investigated for violating the regulations.”
Zack said she cooperated out of a lack of understanding and experience. “After all, I came to provide testimony because of their request and this was my first time in this situation,” she said. “I didn’t understand at all what the procedure was and didn’t understand at all that I was a suspect here. In my naivete I said that I didn’t need a lawyer because I had already consulted before I came to the station, and didn’t understand at all that something improper was going on here.”
Liron Amir, who was near the car ramming, was also summoned Saturday to give testimony – but at the Lev Tel Aviv police station she was told she would be questioned as a criminal suspect as part of “open testimony.” She did not agree to do so. Amir said a policewoman entered the investigations room, not in uniform and without a mask. “She told me: ‘It is important for me to say that this is an investigation in open testimony.’ I asked, ‘What does that mean?’ she said, ‘It means that I am warning you, I don’t have evidence against you but what you say will incriminate you.’ ‘Incriminate me in what?’ I asked, and she said ‘disturbing the peace,’” said Amir.
- Suspect in car-ramming of anti-Netanyahu protesters tells court he 'feared for his life'
- Tel Aviv's mayor among injured amid violence at nationwide anti-Netanyahu protests
- Hundreds of small protests mushroom across Israel over 'draconian' restrictions
At this point Amir told the policewoman that she refused to speak to her without a lawyer.
“I asked her, ‘Are you going to give me a criminal record with the police because of this? You called me to take testimony about a hit and run that happened,’” said Amir. “She told me, ‘It’s an order from above.’”
After consulting with her sister, a lawyer, Amir left. Later the policewoman called her and told her a different police officer told her that she could come and just testify – and not be investigated.
Alec Fremov, another witness, told Haaretz that he received a telephone call from an unidentified number around 1 A.M. Friday. A policeman told him that a patrol car was waiting for him outside his home. Fremov was arrested Thursday night and was next to Luzon in the jail cell, where he says he heard Luzon say he ran them over and did not regret it. Fremov said he was anxious because the police did not tell him what it was about.
“They told me I needed to come to the station and give testimony because from this moment I was being detained for the purpose of providing testimony,” said Fremov. “They asked me to hand over my telephone, came up with me to the apartment so I could take money and my ID card.”
Zack and Amir’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, harshly criticized the police’s actions. “The police attempt to turn the victim and her witnesses into suspects is very serious. Not only did the police in practice lie to Dorit when they asked her to come and file a complaint, and in reality she found herself under criminal interrogation, but the investigation of her and her witnesses is a transparent attempt to intimidate and deter the protesters from complaining to the police about those who attack the protesters. Instead of the police acting to eradicate the violence against demonstrators, in practice it is trying to deter them from realizing their rights against the violent attackers – and this harms the deterrence against potential attackers,” said Lasky.
The police said they are now investigating a suspicion of a hit and run incident during the protest held in Tel Aviv. “As part of the investigation, a number of witnesses were summoned to provide details of the incident. As is accepted and in order to protect their rights and prevent self-incrimination for participating in a demonstration that was held illegally, they were warned according to law, including of the right to consult a lawyer. The witnesses are not suspects but only eyewitnesses, and their testimony was provided to help in the efforts to investigate and discover the truth,” said the police.