Bill enabling prolonged incommunicado detention passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum


The Ministry of Justice proposes a law that will allow non-residents of Israel who are suspected of having committed security offenses to be held almost completely incommunicado for fifty days. The bill, which is proposed as a temporary order that will remain in effect for one year, passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum on October 31. It will now be examined in Committee before returning to the plenum for the second and third readings necessary to enact into law. If enacted, the law will severely breach the fundamental rights of suspects in criminal proceedings, and increase the risk of maltreatment during interrogation.

Time to act!

Write to MK Michael Eitan, Chair of the Knesset Law Committee and request that he remove the proposed law from the Knesset’s agenda. MK Eitan may be reached by fax at +972-2-6496404, or by e-mail at meitan@knesset.gov.il.

Background

The government initiative regarding prolonged incommunicado detention comes following the revocation of the military legislation that was in effect in the Gaza Strip prior to disengagement. The military legislation had given the security forces broad powers regarding the detention of Gaza residents.

The bill empowers the General Security Service to delay bringing persons suspected of committing security offenses before a judge for a period of ninety-six hours. The Detention Law requires that a suspect be brought before a judge within twenty-four hours, and within forty-eight hours in special cases when urgent interrogation is required. In addition, the bill enables the state to prevent a suspect from meeting with an attorney for a cumulative period of fifty days ( an initial twenty-one days, which can then be extended for periods of seven days ), upon approval of a Supreme Court justice. Under the Detention Law, such a meeting can be prevented, with court approval, for no more than twenty-one days.

Of even more concern than these elements of the legislation is the fact that following the initial approval of detention, the courts may extend the detention, and hear the appeal on the decision to extend the detention, in the absence of the suspect. The presence of a detainee at a court proceeding to extend the detention is a fundamental pillar of the criminal justice process. Under the current law, the state is required to allow the detainee to be present in all cases. The effect of the bill, as stated, is that a suspect may be held incommunicado for a total of fifty days.

The right of a detainee to maintain ongoing contact with the external world is one of the guarantees that the detention will not be used as means of pressuring detainees, by making them think that they are completely subject to the benevolence of their interrogators, who are not subject to supervision of any kind. The right also serves as a principal guarantee that the suspect will not be tortured during interrogation. It is for these reasons that the right of suspects to meet with their attorney, to be brought before a judge without delay, and to be present at hearings to extend their detention are so important.

If enacted, this law will illegally discriminate against detainees based on their residency, with Israeli residents being treated one way and foreign residents, particularly residents of Gaza , in a different way. Such discrimination flagrantly breaches the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and severely violates the detainees’ rights.

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