The police will stop imposing criminal culpability for violations by demonstrators on the organizers of demonstrations. However, organizers will still be responsible for any incidents occurring at a demonstration and may be exposed to lawsuits, the police announced recently in response to a question posed by the Association of Civil Rights in Israel.
Up to now the police has conditioned the issue of a permit to demonstrate on the organizers assuming criminal responsibility for any prohibited behavior, disturbance or violation of the permit’s terms throughout the demonstration. This also applied to violations committed by participants who were unconnected to the organizers.
Superintendent Lines Hemed, the officer in charge of organization and coordination in the police commissioner’s bureau, explained this change in policy. “With respect to your claim of restrictive conditions which place criminal responsibility on organizers for any violation of the permit issued, including public disturbances during a demonstration, I hereby inform you that it was decided that we now demand only that the conditions outlined in the permit be adhered to, with no criminal liability,” she told ACRI.
Hemed added that “the relevant professional agencies at Israel Police are discussing how the police relate to demonstrations in order to look at the issue in all its aspects and find appropriate tools to be used by police forces contending with public disturbances during a demonstration. The police deal with many such events and use all the means at their disposal in order to enable freedom of expression, while protecting the public’s safety and maintaining order.”
Before this response was received and following the interrogation of some of the organizers of demonstrations against the natural gas deal, who were threatened with criminal prosecution, ACRI, along with social activists, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice to oppose demands made by the police.
Attorney Sharona Eliyahu-Chai, on behalf of ACRI, argued that the police practises are illegal and unacceptable. “They badly hinder the freedom to demonstrate and protest, and create a chilling effect which hampers freedom of expression,” she wrote in the petition.
The police has yet to respond to the petition.
ACRI clarified on Sunday that the police statement is insufficient. “Over the last weeks we have been approached by many activists around the country who have received demands from the police that make it difficult to organize protests, mainly a demand to impose criminal responsibility for every alleged violation that occurs at a demonstration. In some cases we helped these activists cancel most of these demands, but in most cases the police keep insisting on the criminal liability issue.”
ACRI explained that even after this change in policy, organizers will bear responsibility for actions that are beyond their control. For example, if some demonstrators cause property damage the organizers can be sued for damages.
“We’re glad the police understood that this was an issue that damaged freedom of expression and demonstration, but they still consider anyone taking out a permit as responsible for everything that occurs, even though not on a criminal level. It is still a problematic assumption that could deter people from organizing demonstrations, and this is unreasonable.”
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