In Unusual Case, Israeli Arrested to Ensure She Testifies Against Abusive Ex-partner

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Abu Kabir detention center in Tel Aviv.
Abu Kabir detention center in Tel Aviv. Credit: Moti Milrod

The police detained a woman for four days after she refused to testify in court against her former partner, who was charged with violence and threats against her.

The woman, a mother of two children, was arrested on Thursday after she brought her son to preschool, and was held in the police station and later in the Abu Kabir lockup, after three courts – including the Supreme Court – denied her requests to be released from detention. After four days under arrest, she was brought to court to testify against her former partner, with her legs chained. At the end of the hearing, she was released.

During the hearing, which was held at the beginning of the week in the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, Judge Shamai Becker decided to transfer the case to a different judge, after it was argued that he had been exposed to materials presented by the police without the presence of the defendant considering suspicions that he was preventing her from testifying against him.

The judge wrote that even though he was uncomfortable with the request to recuse himself from the case, “the most important thing is to delve into the investigation of the truth in this case, one way or another, without those same harsh four days of detention the complainant went through going to waste.” 

The case was transferred to judge Ala Masarwa, and the woman, known as A., testified in his courtroom and was then released. Becker described the complainant’s arrest as “unusual.” In another hearing, Becker said a “battle of attrition” is being conducted between the police, which wants to bring the woman to testify, and an “invisible hand or voice that is guiding her not to cooperate and not to come to testify.”

A.’s former partner was indicted in September 2020 for crimes of violence and threats. He has a criminal record, and served time in prison after being convicted of violent crimes as well as property and drug crimes. A. testified against him a number of times as part of police investigations, and in one case she asked to retract her testimony. The police have additional evidence against the man, because in addition to A., her parents and neighbors also provided the police with testimony – and they also have recordings, correspondence and video clips. The man confessed and was convicted on two of the five counts against him.

In March, A. – along with her mother – was summoned to testify in the trial against her ex-partner, but the two did not appear in court, prompting the judge to issue an order to bring them to court. A representative of the police said at the hearing that the police were unable to locate A., and they had learned that the couple had started living together again. According to information from the Israel Prison Service, A. visited her partner in prison around the time of the court sessions she did not attend. This month, a police representative informed the court that they suspected A. was kept from attending court for improper reasons. “We want to investigate the matter and investigate the defendant,” she said.

The police said they had evidence according to which A. and the defendant spoke to each other every day. The defendant’s lawyer said A. was avoiding testifying because she realized that she made a mistake when she lied to the police because she was jealous of her husband. Two weeks ago, the police located A. and questioned her. Last week, police officers arrived at her house once again, but she refused to accompany them for questioning, and they decide to arrest her.

In a session held in Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court on Thursday, the police said A. was investigated on suspicions of obstruction of justice and not abiding by a legal order. Judge Yael Pradelsky extended her detention for three days, based on a fear of obstruction of justice. A.’s lawyer from the Public Defender’s Office appealed to the district court. In a hearing on the appeal, the police said that A. provided her investigator with “surprising” testimony that matched her former partner’s testimony exactly. Judge Doron Hasdai denied the appeal and said “it seems the complainant is doing everything possible to obstruct the legal proceedings in which she is supposed to testify.”

On Friday, A.’s lawyer submitted a request for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Supreme Court Justice Neal Hendel ruled that he did not have adequate material to decide on the matter, and postponed his decision to Sunday. On Sunday, he decided to deny the request to appeal, but noted that the process used in A.’s case “was not routine and raises various questions.”

So on Sunday A. was brought to court, with her legs chained. She went up to the witness stand, where she said she had made up the complaint against her partner. “Nothing of what I complained about ever happened,” she told the court. A. said she told the same thing to the police investigator – two months after she filed the original complaint. “I didn’t want to come and testify because it didn’t interest me, I have my life and my children … and [the prosecutor] sort of threatened me.”

When the prosecutor confronted A. with other evidence, including a video clip in which her husband could be seen threatening her and cutting himself with a knife, A. said she wasn’t interested in “talking about lies.” At the end of her testimony, the police announced they had not yet filed a request to extend her detention, and Judge Masarwa ordered her released without any restrictions “here and now.”

“I have never been in prison, I’m without a [criminal] past,” A. told Haaretz. She was arrested in the morning, immediately after she took one of her children to preschool, and in the presence of another of her children, said A. 

“Detectives were waiting for me in front of my house. One of them put handcuffs on me in front of my son and dragged me. He claimed that I was resisting arrest…I told him ‘You’re handcuffing me in front of my son? Aren’t you ashamed?” A. said she was held in a waiting room at the jail with some 20 men, and was cuffed hand and foot for several hours. “I felt like they were looking to charge me with something small to arrest me and make sure I went to court. It felt like they had ambushed me and taken away my right not to come and testify. From my point of view, I had corrected my testimony to the police and I have a different life. That’s my choice and my right,” A. said,

Attorney Paulina Surin said in response: “The police chose to take the draconian step of arrest against a woman who was clearly in distress to ensure that she testified. In the end, the police backtracked and did not ask to extend the mother’s detention on suspicion of obstruction of the investigation. I’m very sorry that both the police and the court allowed a situation in which a young woman spent four days in lockup only so she would give testimony in a case where she is the complainant.”

Attorney Liat Arazi of the Tel Aviv district public defender’s office said: More immediate means could have been used to ensure that she appeared to testify without causing the woman and her small children the suffering of detention. Detention for investigation is not intended for this purpose.”

A.’s former partner, who has been in prison for nine months, also criticized the move. According to his lawyer, Shai Gabay: “The prosecution showed over-enthusiasm in this case to incriminate the accused at any cost, stopping at nothing.”

The police said: “The suspect,” referring to A., “was arrested in keeping with the request of the court for refusing to testify, violating a legal order and obstructing legal proceedings. In addition, she submitted an appeal against her detention, which was rejected by the court in three instances. We stress that this is testimony that was required after the suspect [A.’s partner] risked the lives of his wife and children and the police acted in accordance with the law to see that justice was done.”

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