MKs defend breaking gag order on 'Prisoner X'

After Knesset legal advisor suggests MKs should face criminal charges, Tibi, Gal-On express concern over freedom of speech.

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February 19, 2013 16:56
2 minute read.
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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 order.

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According to Tibi, the questions were an attempt to “defend the values of freedom, democracy and basic rights of citizens in this country.”

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.

Gal-On 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 she said.

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“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.”

“Freedom of 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 responsibility.”

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 immunity.

In addition, he wrote that the Knesset is not an “immune territory” such that lawmakers cannot be brought to court for their words.

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