Jerusalem District police have asked the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court to allow them to use photographs and videos they confiscated from photojournalists as evidence against protesters at the demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The court hearing on the request will be held on Tuesday.
The two photographers, Eyal Warshavsky and Orian Cohen, were arrested about a week ago while they were taking pictures of activists who removed police barriers from the center of the demonstration near the prime minister’s official residence in the capital. The activists said the police barriers caused great crowding at the demonstrations and endangered the participants, and they wanted to return them to the company that rents them to the police.
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Warshavsky, one of the most veteran photojournalists in Jerusalem, was taking photos on behalf of journalist Yael Lavie, who is making a film about the protests on Balfour Street. Cohen, a documentary photographer, works for film director Doron Tsabari, who is making a film about Israel during the coronavirus crisis. Warshavsky was released by the police after a few hours, and Cohen was held for 24 hours and sent to the Neveh Tirzah women’s prison before being released – but the police kept their cameras and memory cards.
The day after the arrests, the police asked the Magistrate’s Court for an order allowing them to download the pictures and videos to use them as evidence. Gaby Lasky, the lawyer representing Warshavsky and Cohen, opposed the request, saying: “The order means serious harm to freedom of the press and journalistic confidentiality concerning sources. Such harm could have widespread influence on journalistic freedom in Israel.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel asked to join the legal proceedings in the case, saying that the arrest of journalists and the confiscation of their equipment that contains information is “a most serious violation of freedom of the press.” Such a step is forbidden and disproportional and could create a chilling effect on the work of journalists – not just these specific journalists – but journalists in general, said the union.
After the arrests, the police said Warshavsky and Cohen did not have valid Government Press Office cards, so their materials are not covered by the confidentiality of the freedom of the press – in contrast to pictures from the equipment of others who were arrested. Warshavsky’s official press card expired a few months ago, and Cohen has never been issued one. Lasky told the court that GPO press cards do not decide who is a journalist: “These are photographers who were explicitly sent by documentary journalist film makers.”
The unit that arrested Warshavsky, Cohen and the protesters is the Jerusalem district’s central investigations, which is meant to investigate serious crimes, such as fighting organized crime.
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The police said: “The photographers were present, and it even seems photographed the carrying out of criminal acts that occurred in Jerusalem, during which 13 suspects who were with him were apprehended and arrested, on suspicions of stealing the security fence belonging to the police, and which serves the police to protect the demonstrators at the protests held in Paris Square in Jerusalem.”
The police added: “The cameras, which it is suspected contain evidence of the commission of the crime. were confiscated as part of the investigative actions conducted with the purpose of discovering the truth.” The police added the question of returning the cameras is being examined by the court.”