The Jerusalem District Court on Monday lifted restrictions on two activists who were arrested last Saturday on their way to a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
The court ruled there was no justification for preventative arrests related in any way to political protests – unless a serious suspicion of danger to public safety exists.
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The appeal was filed by three activists: Daniel Ohana, Niron Mizrahi and Ziv Bertfeld. Ohana was arrested on Saturday afternoon when he protested outside the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
Mizrahi and Bertfeld were arrested on suspicion of engaging in disorderly behavior even though they never made it to the protest.
The police stopped two buses in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ein Karem that were taking protesters to a demonstration on Balfour Street. Both Mizrahi and Bertfeld were on the buses.
All three were arrested on suspicions of disorderly behavior and violating public order. After being questioned, the three refused to be released on the condition that they stay away from the prime minister’s residence and were therefore brought to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for a hearing regarding their continued detention.
During the hearing, it became evident that the police had asked Ohana whether he intended to harm Netanyahu. A police representative in court said the question was asked because “time after time, (Ohana) comes to the siege of Balfour,” referring to the street where the prime minister’s residence is located.
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Gonen Ben Itzhak, the lawyer representing the three, claimed that the arrests constituted a violation of his clients’ freedom of expression, but the judge, Adi Bartal, accepted the stance of the police.
She ruled the arrest of Mizrahi and Bertfeld was “preventative detention,” imposing restrictions on all three, and ordering them to stay away from the official residence and the protests for two weeks. They were also ordered not to contact one another for 30 days.
The three activists then appealed the judge’s ruling to the Jerusalem District Court, saying there was no justification for the preventative detention related to protests. Judge Ilan Sela heard the appeal on Sunday and accepted the arguments of Ben Yitzhak and attorney Yair Nehorai concerning the detention of the two.
“When it concerns the arrest of two citizens traveling to a protest, who are far from the site, on buses bringing them to the place of the demonstration, which is not forbidden, then the restriction needs to be made only when there is a concrete fear of severe harm to public order or severe harm to public safety,” said the judge.
Sela said the evidence from the police investigation did not reflect such a level of suspicion against the two, “or even close to it.” He said the police’s attempts to use statements such as “impose a siege on Balfour” as evidence of such fears was inappropriate.
“The police did not really think that a handful of demonstrators who arrived at that time on two buses could have really put public safety at risk,” said the judge.
Sela also ruled that the arrests and restrictions on Mizrahi and Bertfeld “are not proportional and do not meet the standards when it comes to stopping buses carrying the public to gatherings.” But the judge did not change the terms of the restrictions on Ohana.
“We knew in advance that the arrest was unreasonable and the police went a step too far. The court understood that this is an action that is very dangerous for freedom of expression. The court is explaining to the police that it must separate between acts of protest, even if they are inconvenient and criminal actions," Ben Yitzhak and Nehorai said after the ruling.
"One can hope that the message that came this morning from the district court will trickle down to the Magistrate’s Court judges too so they will realize that in a democratic country there is no place for preventative arrests related in any way to freedom of expression,” the lawyers continued.