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Activist sentenced for leading "illegal" demonstrations

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - Jerusalem, May 30, 2012 – An Israeli military court's conviction on May 20, 2012, of a Palestinian activist, Bassem Tamimi, of leading illegal demonstrations violates his right to freedom of assembly, while its conviction of him on a second charge of urging children to throw stones on the basis of a child's coercively-obtained statement raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial, Human Rights Watch said today. The court sentenced Tamimi on May 29 to 13 months in prison, which he has already served, as well as a 17-month suspended sentence.

“The Israeli military authorities seem to have known it would be hard to justify convicting an activist for only leading peaceful protests, so they apparently used oppressive methods to produce evidence that he also encouraged children to throw stones,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

The court convicted Tamimi of leading illegal demonstrations, on the basis of Israeli military orders that criminalize even non-violent protests. The conviction came against a background of laws and practices that made it practically impossible for Tamimi to hold a demonstration in his home village, Human Rights Watch said.

“Israel's military justice system indicted itself with its verdict against Bassem Tamimi,” Stork said. “In practice, the military made it virtually impossible for him to protest in his village and then convicted him of leading illegal demonstrations when he tried to hold protests anyway.”

He was further convicted of soliciting children and youths to throw stones on the basis of evidence that, the court said, rested to a decisive degree on a statement obtained by police interrogators from a 15-year-old Palestinian boy whom soldiers had arrested at gunpoint late at night. They questioned the boy for more than four hours the following morning, after he had not slept, without letting him have a parent or lawyer present. In that statement, the boy said that Tamimi had encouraged youths to throw stones, but in court the boy retracted his statement and said the police had instructed him to incriminate Tamimi.

The Israeli military raided Tamimi's home and arrested him on March 24, 2011. The military authorities have detained Bassam Tamimi 11 times but had never previously charged him with a crime. The military court ordered his release on bail on April 24, 2012, so that he could visit his mother, who had suffered a stroke. Tamimi is currently living in Ramallah and is barred from participating in the weekly protests in his home village of Nabi Saleh, in the West Bank.

On May 29, the court sentenced Tamimi to 13 months in prison, amounting to the time he had already served. He also received a 17-month suspended sentence that will be triggered if he is convicted, during the next five years, of incitement or stone throwing, and a two-month sentence if he is convicted of participating in illegal demonstrations during the next two years.

In a similar case in 2011, an Israeli military appeals court sentenced Abdallah Abu Rahme, a Palestinian advocate of nonviolent protests, to 16 months in prison.

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