Israeli Authorities Must Release Palestinian Prisoner of Conscience in West Bank
(New York) – The Israeli military authorities must end their campaign of harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention against a Palestinian activist in the occupied West Bank, Amnesty International said today.
Bassem Tamimi has been detained since his arrest at a non-violent protest against the encroachment of Israeli settlers onto Palestinian land last week. On Wednesday, he appeared before the Ofer Military Court and now faces a further prison sentence.
"Once again, Bassem Tamimi is being held solely for peacefully exercising his rights to freedom of expression and assembly. We believe he is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately and unconditionally," said Ann Harrison, deputy Middle East and North Africa program director at Amnesty International.
Tamimi was arrested on October 24 following a non-violent demonstration in Sha’ar Benjamin settlement north of Ramallah. More than 100 protesters gathered in a supermarket to call for an end to the occupation and a boycott of all Israeli products.
He faces charges of assaulting a police officer, participation in an unlicensed demonstration, and activity against the public order.
After viewing footage of the protest, the military judge ruled that he should be released to house arrest for the duration of legal proceedings. The military prosecution is appealing this decision, and he remains at Ofer prison.
Tamimi was previously sentenced in May to 13 months in prison for his role in organizing regular non-violent protests against Israeli settlements in the West Bank. At the time, Amnesty International considered him to be a prisoner of conscience, and called for his immediate and unconditional release.
The establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank violates international humanitarian law.
According to eyewitness and media reports, as the protesters left the supermarket on October 24 they were beaten by Israeli police and security forces, which also fired stun grenades.
Bassem's wife Nariman Tamimi attended the protest and told Amnesty International: "The police were brutal during the arrest. They threw Bassem on the ground and pressed him down while putting the cuffs on his hands. Anyone who tried to approach them was beaten up. The police seemed scared and nervous. They wanted to make arrests fast."
Despite the police use of unnecessary and excessive force, the military prosecution has charged Tamimi with assault, based on the testimony of one police officer who alleges that the activist hit him on the hand.
Amnesty International spoke to witnesses and reviewed numerous videos from the protest, and found no evidence that he or the other protesters used violence. Tamimi is committed to non-violent resistance and has a long record of peaceful protest. Another Palestinian protester, now released on bail, faces similar charges.
Israeli military laws in place in the West Bank impose sweeping and arbitrary restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, requiring people to obtain advance permission from the Israeli military for any proposed gathering of 10 or more persons "for a political purpose of for a matter that could be interpreted as political".
Tamimi told Amnesty International that in al-Nabi Saleh and all areas where there is popular resistance, police use extreme violence, noting that "there is nothing [to the protests] except that you chant and express your opinion."
As one of the organizers of the al-Nabi Salneh protests and a coordinator of the village's popular committee, Tamimi and his family have been the target of harsh treatment by the Israeli army.
Since the demonstrations began, his house has been raided and ransacked numerous times. His wife has been arrested twice and two of his children have been injured – Wa'ed was in hospital for five days after he was hit in the leg by a rubber bullet and Mohammed was injured by a tear-gas canister that was shot directly at him and hit him in the shoulder.
Tamimi has been arrested by the Israeli army 11 times to date, though he has only once been convicted by a military court - on charges that Amnesty International believes were unfounded.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.