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Report: Israel conceals from detainees social media posts that led to their arrests

Oct. 4, 2017 7:06 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 7, 2017 9:17 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli authorities are not revealing to detainees which of their social media posts led to their arrest, in an escalating crackdown on freedom of expression online that has largely targeted Palestinians, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights, said in a report on its website Wednesday.

The NGO said the practice of concealing such evidence "is being employed disproportionately against Palestinian citizens of Israel and seriously impairs their ability to defend themselves."

Adalah said it sent a letter on Sept. 11 to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Attorney Shai Nitzan, calling on them to order Israeli police to disclose to suspects and their lawyers during pre-trial detention hearings the content of the social media posts that allegedly constitute a criminal offense, such as "incitement," and other crimes of expression.

“This problematic practice essentially turns an initial arrest into a full-fledged administrative detention," Adalah attorney Fady Khoury wrote in the letter, referring to Israel's widely-condemned practice of internment without trial or charge based on undisclosed evidence that is almost exclusively used against Palestinians.

“Just as it would be unthinkable to arrest someone suspected of theft without informing them or their lawyer... what they are believed to have stolen … and just as one cannot be arrested on suspicion of murder while the identity of the victim is left undisclosed until after an indictment is filed, so it is also in the case of an individual arrested on suspicion of committing a crime of expression involving a publication: there is a duty to inform suspects and their lawyers of the content of the expression... on which the arrest warrant is based,” he insisted.

Adalah’s letter included numerous examples of arrests of Palestinian citizens of Israel carried out for alleged crimes of expression that remained classified.

"For example, Razi Nabulsi, a Palestinian Arab citizen of Israel, was arrested on suspicion of 'publishing a statement in support of a terrorist organization,' but Israeli police maintained a ban on release of Nabulsi’s statement that formed the basis for his arrest for the entire duration of his seven-day detention," the report said.

“The arrest of individuals suspected of incitement, for example -- without revealing the statements that form the basis for the arrest --constitutes a serious infringement of suspects’ rights to due process, undermines the purpose of the criminal process, and severely limits detainees’ rights to plead their case and defend themselves, ” Khoury continued in the letter.

According to Adalah, the vast majority of arrests made in Israel in 2015 and the first half of 2016 for charges related to alleged incitement on social media outlets were of Palestinian citizens.

The NGO cited Israeli police statistics that said 82 percent of individuals arrested for incitement-related offenses in 2016 were Palestinian citizens, whereas only 18 percent were Jewish Israeli citizens.

In 2015, 81 percent of those arrested for incitement-related violations were Palestinian citizens and 19 percent were Jewish Israeli. The same year, 43 people were charged with incitement-related offenses --only three were Jewish citizens while the other 40 were Palestinian.

A report released by the Arab Center for Social Media Advancement 7amleh has further documented that slanderous, provocative, and threatening posts made by Israelis against Arabs and Palestinians more than doubled in 2016, reaching 675,000 posts made by 60,000 Hebrew-speaking Facebook users -- with only very few cases being opened against Israelis.

Last month, Adalah also called on Israel to shut down its so-called Cyber Unit, which collaborates with social media platforms to censor content, saying the unit has “no legal authority.”

The Israeli government launched the unit in the second half of 2015, when Israeli authorities alleged that a wave of unrest that erupted that fall was encouraged largely by online "incitement." The crackdown has seen hundreds of Palestinians detained, while social media sites like Facebook and Twitter have complied with hundreds of requests by the Israeli state to censor content.

Khoury had written in a letter to the Israeli attorney general that the Cyber Unit operations are a clear violation of free speech, explaining that the Israeli state attorney’s practice of criminalizing certain expression on social media is tantamount to “an unproven suspicion.”

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