Israeli Court Rejects Police Bid to Use Confiscated Press Photos Against anti-Netanyahu Protesters

The public interest in having an objective free press overrides the need for criminal investigations, judge rules

Press photographers capture a moment during a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, September 5, 2020.
Press photographers capture a moment during a protest against Benjamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem, September 5, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

An Israeli court rejected on Wednesday police request to use photographs taken by journalists as evidence to prosecute protesters against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jerusalem Magistrate's Court Judge Elazar Bialin ruled that “the public interest in having a free press that’s effective and objective” overrides any “public interest in advancing a criminal investigation or legal proceedings in the case before us.”

Haaretz podcast: Trump-loving Israelis brace for a Biden bombshellCredit: Haaretz

Two months ago, demonstrators against Netanyahu took down police barricades set up in Paris Square in Jerusalem, near the prime minister’s official residence, and sought to return them to the company that had rented them out. Press photographer Eyal Warshavsky, and Oriyan Cohen, a filmmaker working on a documentary on the protests, both photographed the incident.

Police officers arrested both photographers along with protesters suspected of involvement in the incident. After releasing the photographers, the police held on to their cameras and memory cards and asked the court to allow investigators to view the photographed material so as to use them as evidence against the activists who were arrested.

The judge ordered police to return the seized photographic material to both photographers. He found with regard to Warshavsky that press freedom overrides any interest to advance the investigation or legal proceedings. With regard to Cohen, the judge ruled that despite her not having press credentials, the material seized would not be helpful toward advancing any investigation.

The photographers’ attorney, Gaby Lasky, said “the court found for the principle of journalistic immunity in its broad sense and that in this instance the principle of freedom of the press supersedes” other interests.

“Furthermore the court has criticized the police for operating against regulations with regard to investigating and searching journalists.”

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