Judge Slams Police and Acquits African Asylum Seeker Jailed 11 Months for Alleged Assault

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African refugees and labor migrants in a park near the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv.Credit: Daniel Tchetchik

An Israeli court has acquitted an African asylum seeker without a visa of an assault charge, and harshly criticized prosecutors and police for keeping the man in custody for 11 months.

Tel Aviv District Court Judge Tali Chaimovitch wrote in her verdict: "It is difficult to shake the feeling that there's a link between those involved in the incident – African foreign workers – and the way the investigation was conducted."

The indictment charged that the man was involved in a scuffle outside a bar and that he smacked someone in the head twice, striking him with a metal bar.

The victim who filed the complaint said he was hospitalized for a fractured skull and intubated in an induced coma due to the injury.

In her verdict, Chaimovitz cited problematic police conduct. She said two policemen went to the scene of the crime in the Neve Sha'anan district in south Tel Aviv and questioned the victim and another person, then left the scene without opening an investigation file.

A few days later, the victim's condition worsened and his brother went to police who demanded he bring the assailant to the station. Three weeks later he found the assailant at a café and called the police who came and arrested him.

The suspect admitted to being at the scene of the scuffle but denied any involvement. He provided the number of another man he said was responsible for the assault. Police arrested the second suspect but freed him soon afterwards without questioning him.

"I would be betraying the truth were I to say the police were negligent," Chaimovich wrote. "In truth the police abrogated its basic committment and refrained from investigating a violent incident until a late stage when they had no choice."

"Even when they did investigate, they showed no motivation and dragged their feet," she wrote.

Chaimovich said she had appealed to the distric attorney in Tel Aviv, for a commitment that migrants without visas would not be arrested for their testimony.

The judge accused police of tainting the evidence and violating the rights of the victim and suspect. 

"I can only regret that the state representative has chosen to handle the case this way, especially in handling a member of a weak sector of society, who in any case has trouble defending himself due to language and cultural difficulties," the judge wrote.

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