The High Court of Justice rejected a petition by Haaretz on Tuesday that sought permission to interview Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah official who is serving five life sentences in Israel for murdering Israelis.
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In late 2014, Haaretz journalist Gidi Weitz asked the Israel Prison Service for permission to interview Barghouti, who is held in Hadarim Prison in central Israel. The service rejected the request, “because of [Barghouti’s] behavior in jail, on both the open and the classified level, and because of defense officials’ stance.”
Haaretz then petitioned the High Court, arguing that the interview should be permitted because there was great public interest in learning what a senior Fatah official had to say about resolving the conflict.
Barghouti also asked the justices to allow the interview, in a statement submitted to the court via Haaretz’s attorney.
But in a 2-1 decision, the court rejected the petition without even hearing the parties’ arguments. Justices Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham explained that if Barghouti wanted to be interviewed, he should have petitioned the court himself.
In her dissent, Justice Daphne Barak-Erez argued that the court should have discussed the petition on its merits. “My colleagues’ approach is liable to result in a decision with ramifications for freedom of the press in Israel enjoying de facto immunity from judicial review, because of the prisoner’s lack of interest in filing a petition on his own behalf,” she wrote.
The interview ban, she continued, not only infringes on Barghouti’s freedom of expression – which might be justified in light of his crimes – but also on “the ability of others, including the newspaper itself, to obtain information, process it and participate in the conversation on which it is based. Therefore, the decision that was reached also infringes on the paper’s rights, and not just the prisoner’s rights.”