The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee last week approved a request from the Israel Police to expand the list of offenses for which DNA samples could be taken from suspects. In addition to offenses such as membership in a criminal organization, exploiting minors for the purposes of prostitution, theft under special circumstances and sexual abuse, the list will now include offenses such as assaulting a police officer and unruly conduct causing damage.
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In a letter to the committee chairman, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch noted that in the years 2012 and 2013, an average of around 7,000 cases involving the newly added offenses were opened. Of these, 2,600 were for assaulting a police officer. As a result of the change, demonstrators who allegedly resist arrest will be put on the list of “dangerous criminals” from whom DNA samples should be taken. This, at a time when the court recently ruled in similar cases that the defendants should not have been arrested and prosecuted in the first place.
Take, for example, the case of Daphni Leef – one of the main leaders of the social protests of 2011 – who was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer and charged with taking part in a riot, interfering with a police officer and using force or threats to avoid arrest. After a single court session, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ordered the charges against her dropped. The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court judge who heard the case reprimanded the police and ordered the immediate release of all the activists, saying, “There are no grounds that justify their being held for even one more day.”
Last week, two days before the Knesset committee approved the motion on DNA collection, the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court acquitted a different demonstrator who was suspected of shoving a police officer. Judge Shamai Becker ruled that the police had no legal grounds to detain him, and there was no reason to order the demonstrations to stop their protest in the first place. He added that the police and the prosecution were too eager when it came to violating protesters’ rights to freedom of expression.
In these circumstances, there is a concern that approving the change would disturb the appropriate balance maintained by the police – between the need to fight crime, and the duty to uphold the right to privacy and the individual’s rights over their body, both of which are protected by Israel’s Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom. In its current state, the proposed expansion of the list of offenses for which DNA samples could be taken constitutes a disproportionate and unconstitutional violation of human rights, which could result in deterring and suppressing political dissent by defining it as a crime. The attorney general must recognize this danger and issue a warning about its unconstitutionality.