Ben Zygier passport 370.
(photo credit: ABC News)
MKs expressed concern about freedom of speech on Tuesday, following Knesset
Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon’s ruling that breaking a gag order on the “Prisoner X”
incident could lead to criminal charges for lawmakers.
“I was appalled by
Yinon’s legal opinion. I acted within my significant immunity as part of
fulfilling my role, within the walls of the Knesset and did not break any law,”
said MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al), referring to last week, when he and
MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) and Dov Henin (Hadash) asked Justice Minister Yaakov
Neeman questions about the case of the alleged Mossad agent and Australian
citizen who committed suicide in his prison cell, while the case was under a gag
According to Tibi, the questions were an attempt to “defend the
values of freedom, democracy and basic rights of citizens in this
Gal-On took a more delicate tack, saying that she agrees with
Yinon, but that his ruling does not apply to her.
“The plenum and Knesset
committees are not ‘immune territory’ from being put on trial, and the fact that
an MK spoke in the Knesset is not enough for him or her to get automatic
immunity,” Gal-On stated, paraphrasing Yinon.
Still, she added, if that
speech is an important part of an MK’s job, then immunity applies.
pointed out that Yinon wrote he is not giving a legal opinion specifically about
the MKs who spoke about Prisoner X, saying it certainly is not relevant to what
“There is no doubt in my eyes that revealing an immoral
injustice and harm to freedom of the press and to the public’s right to know are
an integral part of my job as an MK, and fall under immunity,” the Meretz leader
said. “Like the Knesset’s legal adviser, I do not take lightly the need to use
immunity only in special cases.
“That is why the case of Prisoner X is
the first time in my 12 years as an MK I used it in a thoughtful and exact way,”
she said, “and I am proud of it.”
On Monday, Yinon explained in a letter
to MKs that their “parliamentary immunity is not unlimited.”
expression is a basic right in Israel, but like every other basic right, it is
not total,” he wrote. “As such, the law limits certain expressions in order to
protect other important interests, such as incitement to racism, violence or
terror, revealing secret information, libel, breaking a gag order, etc. These
are expressions that, in certain cases, could lead to criminal
According to Yinon’s legal opinion, if an MK planned in
advance to break a gag order, he or she can be put on trial like any other
citizen, and his or her speech does not fall under the category of
In addition, he wrote that the Knesset is not an “immune
territory” such that lawmakers cannot be brought to court for their words.