Witness, IDF prosecutor spar at trial of activist

Trial of well-known human rights activist Ayman Nasser, accused of involvement with the PFLP continues.

AYMAN NASSER 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The trial of well-known human rights activist Ayman Nasser, accused of involvement with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist group, continued on Monday in the IDF Judea Court at Camp Ofer, with an all-out war between the prosecutor and Asraf Haleel Mamood Abu- Aram, one of the prosecution’s Palestinian witnesses.
The source of the tension was Abu-Aram’s allegations that illegal police pressure had forced him into making incriminating statements about Nasser, while the prosecution tried to show that Abu-Aram’s claim that he did not even know Nasser was not credible.
Abu-Aram said that he lied to police, but was telling the truth in court.
Because of the political impact of the case – a human rights activist being accused of terrorism – it has drawn the attention of both the Israeli and international media.
Nasser, a human rights activist for Palestinian prisoners’ rights at an organization called Addameer that was recently raided – although no charges have as yet been filed against it – claims that he has committed no crimes.
The IDF indictment against him recognizes that he works as a human rights activist, but alleges that he doubles as a PFLP member, and charges him with five counts of being present at PFLP events or actively recruiting for the terrorist organization.
Nasser and Addameer have said that the IDF is persecuting him for political reasons and trying to intimidate human rights organizations that publicly criticize the IDF and fight for prisoner rights.
The indictment does not accuse Nasser of involvement in actual terror operations, and focuses on his alleged presence at PFLP gatherings, including one specific incident in which he is accused of distributing recruiting materials and paying someone NIS 200 for transportation costs to go recruit new PFLP members.
Nasser has recognized that he was present at most of the events mentioned, but that he was there in his capacity as an activist for prisoner rights, that the events were widely attended by Palestinians from the general public, and that whether PFLP agents were there or not, they would have been a small number of the attendees and would have had nothing to do with them.
Monday’s drama even topped the hearing of the trial’s first witness Mahmoud Zeitoun, held on December 31.
In statements to police, Abu- Aram as well as Zeitoun, both in detention for alleged crimes, accused a man named Ayman Karaja of being present and involved in various PFLP events.
In one instance, they claimed that Karaja helped organize an event commemorating deceased PFLP secretary-general Abu Ali Mustafa.
After piecing together different statements of Abu-Aram and Zeitoun, including the latter’s identifying a photograph of Ayman Nasser as the Ayman Karaja that he and Abu-Aram had discussed, the prosecution offered Abu-Aram as a key witness for placing Nasser at the PFLP events.
But when Abu-Aram entered the courtroom, he fought back hard against the allegations against him and Nasser.
From the onset, Abu-Aram claimed that he had been put under “intense emotional pressure” to give his interrogators the answers that they wanted to hear.
Abu-Aram claimed he was told he would not be allowed to consult with an attorney.
According to the law, there are points early in an interrogation where persons accused of certain crimes, like membership in terrorist groups, can be questioned without an attorney, although interrogators are bound to advise the suspect of his right to an attorney as soon as that preliminary time period expires.
The prosecution attempted to show that interrogators had not mistreated Abu-Aram and tried to get him to admit that they had given him food, coffee and cigars and permitted him to shower.
Yet, even as Abu-Aram admitted to receiving certain items, he complained that there were periods where he had been denied some of these items.
Trying to shake Abu-Aram, the prosecutor asked him to list the names of the “twenty” interrogators he said had “yelled at him” and made him feel “under pressure.” Abu- Aram was able to name seven names, which is an unusually high number even for witnesses who claim being mistreated during interrogation.
Also, at every turn when the prosecutor asked for a yes or no answer, Abu-Aram demurred, returning to a longer description of his narrative of events.
The prosecutor eventually convinced the court to declare Abu Aram a hostile witness, just as it had done with Zeitoun.
Once a prosecution’s witness is declared hostile, the prosecutor can question the witness aggressively and with leading questions just as if they were cross-examining a witness for the defense.
As the prosecutor questioned Abu-Aram, her voice rose and she and Nasser’s defense attorney Mahmoud Hassan had several emotional exchanges over whether the witness was evading answering questions or whether the prosecutor was not letting the witness give his answers.
As with Zeitoun, the video footage of the interrogation may be crucial for the judge determining whether to believe the witnesses’ disavowals of their police statements incriminating Nasser.