A bill that would allow terrorism suspects to be held for up to a year without
access to a lawyer was approved for government support on Monday.
measure, sponsored by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel
Beiteinu), would extend the amount of time during which prison officials can
deny visits from a lawyer to someone suspected of terrorism, from three weeks to
six months at a time, for a total of up to a year.
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'Prisons Service holds drills dealing with all
Prison officials have
had the ability to prevent such visits since 2005, if they can prove that there
is “a grave suspicion that meetings with a specific lawyer would allow the
implementation of a criminal offense that would endanger the security of a
person, the security of the public, the security of the state, or the security
of the prison.”
The bill was slammed by civil rights organizations. The
Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed a memorandum with the Public
Security Ministry in opposition to the legislation, said it was in “clear
contradiction to constitutional principles.”
“These draconian measures
are already extremely harmful to the prisoner’s right to consult with his lawyer
of his choice,” said Lila Margalit, an ACRI attorney.
ACRI warned that
the bill would open the door to widespread abuse of prisoners, holding them for
exceedingly long periods without sufficient evidence that they would use visits
from their lawyer to plan illegal acts.
Aharonovitch’s office expressed
confidence that the proposal would become law, with the first reading expected
within a few weeks. His office cited intelligence reports that found there was a
“grave concern” that certain lawyers were taking advantage of meetings with
prisoners to coordinate terrorism.
“You can’t exploit democracy for
terrorist activity,” Eido Minkovsky, spokesman for Aharonovitch, told The
Meir Indor, head of Al-Magor, an organization that helps
the families of victims of terrorist attacks, said, “For us, it’s preferable,
even if it causes harm, that one man can’t see his lawyer rather than another
man will die.
“It’s like in a war, where you have to tolerate crimes in
order to win the war. It could be criminal to keep a suspect from seeing a
lawyer, but you have to keep in mind the general goal, which is safety and
security against terrorism.”
The decision to deny access to a lawyer
suspected of being used to carry out terrorist acts is made by the director of a
prison. Currently, a prison director can keep a lawyer away for up to 24 hours,
which the new bill would extend to 96 hours.
Now, the commissioner of the
Prisons Service, with permission from the attorney-general, can extend the order
for five days, and a district court can forbid visits by a lawyer for up to 21
Under the new legislation, the commissioner, with permission, would
be able extend the order for up to 14 days, and the court could extend it for
six months at a time, up to a maximum of a year.
Aharonovitch hoped to expand the bill to include withholding lawyers from
organized crime suspects who could be passing information to the
The bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for
Legislation on Monday, which means it has support of the coalition. Though it
still needs to pass three readings in the Knesset, this initial support is
usually enough to ensure the measure will become law.
If that happens,
petitions to the High Court of Justice against the law are expected.