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Activist convicted after unfair trial

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Jerusalem, September 8, 2010 - An Israeli military court's conviction of Abdullah Abu Rahme, an advocate of nonviolent protests against Israel's de facto confiscation of land from the West Bank village of Bil'in, raises grave due process concerns, Human Rights Watch said today. On August 24, 2010, Abu Rahme, who has been detained for more than eight months, was convicted on charges of organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations and inciting protestors to damage the separation barrier, throw stones at Israeli soldiers, and participate in violent protests.

The convictions were based on allegations that did not specify any particular incidents of wrongdoing and on statements by children who retracted them in court, alleging they were coerced, and who did not understand Hebrew, the language in which Israeli military interrogators prepared the statements they signed. Abu Rahme, a 39-year-old schoolteacher, helped organize protests against the route of the Israeli separation barrier that has cut off Bil'in villagers' access to more than 50 percent of their agricultural lands, on which an Israeli settlement is being built. He remains in custody pending sentencing, and could face 20 years in prison.

"Israel's conviction of Abu Rahme for protesting the unlawful confiscation of his village's land is the unjust result of an unfair trial," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli authorities are effectively banning peaceful expression of political speech by convicting supporters of nonviolent resistance."

Human Rights Watch reported in March that Israel has detained dozens of Palestinians who advocate nonviolent protests against the separation barrier and charged them based on questionable evidence, including allegedly coerced confessions from minors.

Israeli soldiers arrested Abu Rahme on December 10 at 2 a.m., when seven military jeeps surrounded his home in Ramallah, where he had resided for two years. An Israeli military court indicted Abu Rahme on December 21 on charges of incitement, stone throwing, and illegal possession of weapons. The arms possession charge was based on an art exhibit, in the shape of a peace sign, that Abu Rahme constructed out of used M16 bullet cartridges and tear gas canisters that the Israeli army had used to quell protests in Bil'in. Abu Rahme was ultimately acquitted of this charge. On January 18, military prosecutors added the charge of organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations to the indictment. Because Abu Rahme's interrogation had already ended, he was never questioned about this charge.

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To read the complete press release, click here

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