Court Orders Release of 9 Activists Detained in Ethiopian-Israelis' Protest Against Police Violence

Police initially asked to extend their remand by six days, but judge said only 'minor incidents' occurred after mass demonstration ■ Activist leaders insist 'only 20 people out of 20,000 were making a mess'

Protesters rallying against police violence after police shot and killed a mentally-ill Israeli of Ethiopian descent, January 30, 2019.
Moti Milrod

A Tel Aviv court ordered the release Thursday of the nine people who were arrested after Wednesday’s demonstration to protest police violence against Ethiopian-Israelis.

Police had asked the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court to delay the release for a day to allow them to appeal, but Judge Ala Masarwa gave them a 4 P.M. Thursday deadline and strongly implied that they shouldn’t appeal.

Given the “sensitivity” of the issue, Masarwa said, he expected the police “to consider carefully, since what’s at stake is the liberty of nine detainees. Therefore, I ask that this be weighed with all due seriousness.”

Shortly before 4 P.M., police told the detainees’ lawyers that they had indeed decided against appealing, and all nine were freed. Police plan to charge them with assaulting and threatening civil servants and vandalizing property.

The demonstrators’ lawyers said senior police officers had told them Wednesday that all nine would be freed, so they were surprised when police asked the court to order them held for another six days. 

File photo: Undated photo of Yehuda Biadga, who was shot dead by Israeli police in the central city of Bat Yam on January 18, 2019.
Biadga family

One lawyer, Ari Shamay, said he was shocked not only that police sought another six days of detention, but also by the fact that the investigation is formally being handled by the fraud squad, with oversight from the prosecution. He said he’d never before encountered such a procedure “in a case like this, which is about assaulting policemen and disturbing the peace,” and charged that it was intended “to show that the police aren’t persecuting Ethiopians, but rather other state agencies.”

In his ruling, Masarwa said the nine were arrested for “minor incidents at the end of a public protest by Ethiopian-Israelis in Tel Aviv.” At the end of the protest, the suspects allegedly “vandalized property and assaulted policemen,” and police provided evidence of each suspect’s involvement. 

“There’s no dispute that an act of violence against a civil servant, and especially a policeman, is grave and must be vehemently condemned,” he continued. Nevertheless, he said, there’s no risk that the suspects, if freed, would either disrupt the investigation or endanger the public.

“Most of them have no criminal record, and their actions, without making light of them, were committed in a certain defined situation that shouldn’t be detached from its broader context,” Masarwa added. “No one disputes that this was a quiet protest that escalated toward the end.”

Protesters rallying against police violence after police shot and killed a mentally-ill Israeli of Ethiopian descent, January 30, 2019.
Moti Milrod

Erez Naga, Racheli Gasasa and Yaffa Zamir, lawyers for some of the other suspects, said in a statement that they were surprised police sought to detain the suspects “for no less than six days when there’s no reason for detention, solely for the sake of creating a provocation and painting suspects with no criminal record as highly violent.”