A man from the northern town of Kfar Vradim was summoned by police after sharing a post on the town’s Facebook group inviting people to a demonstration against the government.
Nir Sha'anani received a summons Thursday to go to the police station for questioning, but an officer who came to his home later clarified that it was an "investigation/hearing." The officer said that he is suspected of organizing a demonstration without a permit, despite a High Court of Justice ruling that no license is required for a demonstration that is not about a “political issue.”
Sha'anani, a professional photographer, had invited residents to protest on a nearby bridge. "Like many of you, I'm also following what's going on in the country and I'm anxious," he wrote in the Facebook post. "So I'm inviting all of you. If Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or even Nahariya are too far away for you to protest the situation, you're invited to join the demonstration." He called on people "from the left and the right, anyone who still believes that there's hope for a change."
Sha’anani said a police officer knocked on his door and opened it without his consent, after which the officer told him that he needs to come in for questioning: “I asked him about what, he told me that he didn’t know, talked with them on the radio, told me it wasn’t an investigation, it’s a hearing, you’re organizing a demonstration, so it’s because of that.”
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At the police station, Sha’anani made it clear to the police that he is not one of the organizers of the protest, which is due to be held at the Yefe Nof bridge in the nearby city of Ma’alot on Saturday. He told the police officers to speak with attorney Gaby Lasky. “Gaby told them that it wasn’t me and they let me go.” Later the police summoned one of the organizers of the protest, who refused to appear.
Sha’anani said he has participated in two demonstrations so far, one in Nahariya a month ago and one after the arrest of protest leader Amir Haskel. He said he was furious that a police officer opened the door to his home. “I simply didn’t believe that it was happening. I was on the way leave the house to cheer up a friend from Haifa whose husband is in [the Lowenstein Rehabilitation Hospital]. It hurts me that because of this stupidity, I couldn’t go visit her,” he added.
Since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, organizers of demonstrations and protests have faced difficulties with law enforcement agencies. Last month, protesters attending a demonstration against the Netanyahu government’s intention to annex parts of the West Bank were told by police they could not publicize the protest on Facebook, on account of fears it would be too crowded.
Last week, a police officer from the central Dan district called a resident of Bnei Brak, who publicly supported protesting against police actions in the Haredi community, and told him that this was an illegal demonstration because he had not received a permit. The police officer said that he would be responsible for what happened at the demonstration, even though, as the man explained, he was not one of the organizers.
In 2017, the High Court ruled that organizers of demonstrations that did not directly relate to a “political issue” were not obligated to receive a permit. At most, they must notify the police about the event.
Lasky, the attorney, told Haaretz that “It seems that in a regime that is losing its democratic characteristics, the police are misusing their authority to summon citizens for investigation... so as to limit their actions, intimidate them and prevent their protests." She added, “The attorney general must intercede because if the police are not reined in now, they will feel empowered to do anything they want under the pretense of the war against coronavirus, and harm freedom of expression and the right to protest.”
The police said: “Despite his claims, the citizen was not questioned by the police and no investigation was opened in this matter. He was summoned to the police as a result of information according to which he invited many people to participate in a protest, with the goal of speaking with him and explaining to him as the organizer of the protest what are the conditions required by regulations.”
The police said they wanted to emphasize that “even during this period in which the rate of infection in Israel is at a peak and gatherings are subject to limitations and social distancing, the Israel Police will continue to enable freedom of expression and the right to protest according to the law, while protecting the safety, health and welfare of the public.”