Israeli Arab Ex-lawmaker Denied Early Prison Release, 'Terror Group Membership' Cited

Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who is currently serving a two year sentence for security offenses, was rejected to begin the rehabilitation process due to difficulty expressing remorse and for his connections to the Popular Front

Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri
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FILE Photo: Balad MK Basel Ghattas in court, 2017.
FILE Photo: Balad MK Basel Ghattas in court, 2017. Credit: Yehuda Peretz
Almog Ben Zikri
Almog Ben Zikri

A court has accepted the Israel Prison Service claim that former Balad MK Basel Ghattas, who was convicted of security offenses is a member of the Popular Front terror group, and therefore should not be eligible for early release.

Ghattas denied the claim, which he said he had never heard before.
In November, the parole board denied Ghattas’ request for early release on grounds that he had had difficulty expressing remorse for his action and had not undergone rehabilitation. The committee said at the time that it would consider his request again in three months, and that meanwhile he should begin the rehabilitation process. Ghattas’ lawyer asked the prison service that same day to begin the process, which involves meetings with a social worker.

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Nafha Prison officer Nabil Joanmi rejected Ghattas request to begin rehabilitation due to what he said was the former MK’s lack of remorse. Ghattas lawyer, Abir Baker, then petitioned the Be’er Sheva District Court against the decision, arguing that it was illegal for the prison service to condition entry into rehabilitation on expressing remorse.

But the lawyer for the state said that according to prison service rules, the authorities could consider allowing a security prisoner to enter rehabilitation if “there has been a prominent and real change” in his ways and that he had cut all ties with the terror organization to which he had belonged. The state claimed that the fact that Ghattas had not expressed remorse showed that he had not changed his ways and also said that he had been classified as belonging to the Popular Front.

Ghattas’ attorney told the court that evidence should be presented proving that her client belonged to the Popular Front and that this claim had never been heard before. The prison service said it had proof that Ghattas had been told he was considered a member of the Popular Front at the time of his intake at Nafha Prison. Ghattas then shouted in court “It’s a lie, it’s not true.”

Ghattas had previously petitioned the Lod District Court for early release under the supervision of his sister. The state opposed the move because Ghattas is considered a security prisoner who does not meet the prison service criteria for such release. However, the service did not state at that time that it had classified him as a member of the Popular Front.

“The burden of proof is on the prison service, not only to tell the prisoner what organization he belongs to, but to tell him why [it believes this] as much as possible by presenting open material,” Baker told the court. If the basis for the prison service’s conclusion is that the other people who were involved in Ghattas’ offense are members of the Popular Front, the evidence would have to be presented, she added.

After the court rejected her client’s petition, Baker said Ghattas would begin the normal process of proving to the state that he was not a member of the Popular Front.

Ghattas has been serving a 24-month sentence after his conviction in April 2017 on several counts of security offenses including providing the means to commit acts of terror, after he was caught smuggling cellphones, SIM cards, phone chargers and documents to security prisoners.

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