Despite Ruling, Prisoners in Israel Keep Getting Cuffed When They're Taken to Court

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Illustration: A man is seen in leg shackles at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, July 10, 2013.
Illustration: A man is seen in leg shackles at the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court, July 10, 2013.Credit: Olivier Pitusi

The Israel Prison Service and police continue to shackle suspects in public places, including courtrooms, despite High Court decisions barring the action.

Such scenes are becoming more frequent in Israel’s courts. Just last month, video filmed in the halls of Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court showed a man in his 30s with an injured and swollen foot shackled to the other and his hands cuffed, as he was led to a hearing room.

Police ignored calls to release the shackles of the man who was seen to be weeping with pain, though he was not a flight risk. Only under court order did they release the cuffs.

According to the Israeli law, a prisoner or detainee may only be cuffed when they are a flight risk or at risk of doing harm to others or sabotaging an investigation.

Two weeks ago, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled on a petition filed by attorney Yehonathan Rabinowitz, demanding enforcement of the rule for detainees to not be unnecessarily shackled while in court.

Following the petition, the Israel Prison Service legal advisor issued a directive that detainees should not shackle prisoners unless an assessment found it to be necessary, and expected the service to explain, on their own accord, to the court why a prisoner is shackled and to wait for a response from the prisoner’s attorney.

Judges also ordered the state to compensate the petitioner for legal expenses in the sum of 10,000 shekels.

But the Israel Prison Service and police continue to violate this rule.

“You can go on filming,” one of the police officers escorting the man in his 30s is heard saying in the video. The suspect, who was accused of assaulting an officer and vandalism, was only released from his cuffs after his attorney Atalia Rafael from the public defenders’ office, presented the judge with a photograph of the prisoner in the hallway. He was also later released on bail.

Due to coronavirus safety rules, most prisoners are not brought to court for their hearings and attend via video teleconferencing. Police say that cases where they must bring the prisoner to the court are often problematic logistically, resulting in prisoners being restrained with hand or foot cuffs when they are brought in.

Last week, the Knesset Interior Committee debated the issue and ruled that continuing to shackle defendants against the rules, “is humiliating and makes a mockery of the prisoner and deals a serious blow to human dignity.” Committee members reprimanded the police for failing to send any representative to the meeting, claiming the issue was solely under the responsibility of the IPS even though police often escort defendants to the court to extend their remands.

Lawmaker Moshe Arbel speaks in the Knesset, April 20, 2019.Credit: Olivier Pitusi

MK Moshe Arbel of Shas made a surprise visit to a Petah Tikvah court on Wednesday and during a remand hearing for a man accused of assaulting his woman partner, the lawmaker told the judge, Erez Melamed, that the accused had his legs shackled against regulations. Melamed ordered the shackles taken off and demanded clarifications from the IPS. The service said that the suspect had a leg shackled due to fears of a risk of him doing harm to others during the session.

In an internal WhatsApp group, the service warned staff that the lawmaker was “walking around courthouses.”

The Israel Police said bringing detainees to court is normally handled by the Prison Service, and that when asked to do so "in exceptional cases," they follow regulations.

The Israel Prison Service said it abides by court rulings and that detainees are shackled only in accordance with the law.

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