Rights org condemns detention of political leaders after Flotilla raid

The following press release was issued by Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel on 2 June 2010:

Last night, 1 June 2010, Judge Dina Cohen of the Magistrates’ Court in Ashkelon, after a nine-hour hearing before a packed courtroom, decided to extend the detention of Arab political leaders — Mr. Muhammed Zeidan, the Chairman of the High Follow-up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel; Sheikh Raed Salah, the Head of the Islamic Movement in Israel (northern branch); and Sheikh Hamad Abu Daabes, the Head of the Islamic Movement in Israel (southern branch) — and Ms. Lubna Masarwa of the Free Gaza Movement and al-Quds University for one week, until 8 June 2010.

The four Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel were arrested from the ship Mavi Marmara, part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, which was attacked by the Israeli navy on 31 May 2010. Adalah Attorneys Hassan Jabareen and Orna Kohn, as well as Attorney Hussein Abu Hussein, and Attorney Khaled Zabargha of the al-Mezan Legal Center in Nazareth represented the four before the court.

While no indictment has been issued, the state argues that a range of criminal offenses could apply, including conspiracy to commit an offense, and possession and use of weapons. The state prosecution clearly emphasized in court that their request to remand the leaders was made in accordance with the state’s policy of investigating and detaining citizens of Israel who participated in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla.

In the view of the legal defense team, the state’s request and the court’s decision contradict the basic principles of criminal law, which require that individuals should be criminalized solely on the basis of their individual deeds. The prosecution argued that the Israeli naval soldiers were attacked by the passengers on the ship; however, they did not furnish any evidence to demonstrate that one of these four individuals had participated in or were responsible for the attack.

Further, the legal defense team asserts that the decision discriminates against the detainees and amounts to selective prosecution due solely to their national belonging. They are not being detained because of their Israeli citizenship but because they are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.

The attorneys raised numerous preliminary arguments before the court in arguing for the release of the four leaders. They argued that the Israeli courts had no jurisdiction over the case, as the ship had been in international waters at the time of the Israeli navy’s attack. The state prosecution was unable to respond to the question of what the legal authority of the Israeli military was to attack the boat in international waters.

The attorneys also argued that the detention was illegal, prima facie, as the law requires those arrested to be brought before a court within 24 hours. In this case, however, the four individuals were kept in detention for almost 40 hours before being brought to court. The state prosecution and the police argued that the hours of detention should be calculated only from time that the ship reached the Ashdod Port. The defense attorneys countered that since their liberty was taken from them when they were arrested on the ship, the detention began with their arrest. They were not allowed to meet a lawyer and were not brought before a judge within the limits of the law.

Adalah will submit an appeal against the decision to remand them in custody to the District Court of Beer el-Sabe tomorrow, 3 June 2010.