On Sunday 29 August 2004, Adalah and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted a petition to the Supreme Court, in the name of eight attorneys and other human rights organizations, against the Israel Prison Service (IPS). The petitioners demanded that the Court should issue an order nisi instructing the IPS to explain why they are preventing attorneys, including the petitioners, from visiting hunger-striking “security” prisoners and detainees. The request of the petitioners for an urgent hearing on the petition was granted. The Court scheduled the hearing on 1 September 2004.
Since prisoners classified by the IPS as security prisoners announced the start of their hunger strike, in protest against the difficult living conditions in Israeli prisons, the IPS has prevented attorneys from visiting hunger-striking “security” prisoners. In some cases, attorneys have even been denied access to non-striking “security” prisoners. The IPS has acknowledged on several occasions, verbally and in writing, that the reason for refusing attorneys’ permission to visit prisoners and detainees is the hunger strike.
Significantly, the IPS had been obstructing meetings between attorneys and “security” prisoners before the announcement of the hunger strike. At times, attorneys have been denied permits from the IPS to visit prisoners for days and even weeks. The IPS imposes conditions on granting permits to attorneys seeking to visit “security” prisoners, on the basis of Article 6 (a) of the Prison Regulations (04.34.00), which obliges attorneys to inform the IPS of their intention to visit a prison 24-hours in advance, and to obtain a permit for the visit.
Attorneys Orna Kohn from Adalah and Sonia Bulus from ACRI argued that the prevention of meetings between attorneys and hunger-striking prisoners and detainees has no legal basis, and in fact contradicts existing laws and is tantamount to illegal and prohibited punishment. The two attorneys added that the obstructing prisoners’ meetings with their attorneys violates the prisoners’ basic right to legal counsel, their constitutional rights, the rights to life, bodily integrity and dignity, in addition to the right to access to justice. The petition also argued that preventing prisoner-attorney meetings deprives attorneys of their ability to defend their prisoner clients, and to fulfill their professional duty, and impinges upon their freedom to practice their profession.
On 9 August 2004, Adalah attorney Abeer Baker submitted a pre-petition to the State Attorney’s Office, demanding her immediate intervention to end the IPS’s policy of limiting or denying attorneys’ access to prisoners. In the pre-petition, Adalah highlighted the unlawfulness of restricting attorneys’ meetings with “security” prisoners. The IPS failed to respond to Adalah’s pre-petition, even though they were ordered to do so, along with the Police and the Ministry of Domestic Security, by the State Attorney’s Office.
The petition argued that prison walls do not divide prisoners from their constitutional rights, and that the Court is obliged to safeguard prisoners’ rights, even when behind bars. Moreover, the IPS also prevents “security” prisoners from receiving visits from their families, as well as Members of the Knesset (Israeli parliament). The petitioners therefore argued that the prisoners on hunger strike currently have no link to the outside world, which increases the gravity of the situation, since the IPS is exposing the hunger-striking prisoners to danger and punishing them.
The petitioners stressed that, even if the IPS considers the hunger strike a breach of prison regulations, they do not have the authority to punish the prisoners and detainees by preventing them from meeting their attorneys.