Amnesty International has condemned an Israeli military appeal court's decision to extend the prison sentence of a Palestinian non-violent activist, convicted over his involvement in organizing protests in the occupied West Bank.
Abdallah Abu Rahma, head of the Popular Committee Against the Wall in the West Bank village of Bil'in, had his sentence extended from 12 months to 16 months by the Israeli Military Court of Appeals at Ofer in the West Bank on Tuesday, after the prosecution argued that his initial sentence was too lenient.
Detained since December 2009, Abdallah Abu Rahma, a school teacher, was supposed to be released on 18 November 2010, but has been kept in detention at the military prosecution's request. He has now been in prison for 13 months.
"By extending Abdallah Abu Rahma's sentence the Israeli authorities appear to be seeking not only to punish him further in a case where the prosecution’s evidence was questionable to begin with, but to deter others from participating in legitimate protests," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
"Amnesty International believes Abdallah Abu Rahma to be a prisoner of conscience, jailed solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression and assembly. As such we call for his immediate and unconditional release."
Abdallah Abu Rahma was found guilty of "organizing and participating in an illegal demonstration" and "incitement" by an Israeli military court on 24 August 2010. He was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment on 11 October 2010.
Following the extension of his sentence, he will now serve an additional three months in prison, with the possibility of an administrative release after two months, in which case he would be forbidden from participating in any demonstrations.
When convicting Abdallah Abu Rahma the military judge accepted the prosecution’s arguments that he had encouraged demonstrators in Bil’in to throw stones at Israeli soldiers.
The allegations were based on the statements of three children, who subsequently retracted them in court, claiming that they were made under duress.
Abdallah Abu Rahma is well known to Amnesty International as a political activist with a long-term public commitment to using peaceful means to raise international awareness of the human rights violations suffered by Palestinians because of Israel's fence/wall, much of which has been built in the occupied West Bank.
Since 2005, the villagers of Bil'in, together with Palestinian, Israeli and international supporters, have been holding weekly demonstrations in protest against the fence/wall and the confiscation of their land by the Israeli authorities for its construction.
In September 2007 the Israeli High Court of Justice issued a ruling instructing the Israeli military authorities to reroute the fence/wall in Bil’in to give the villagers access to more of their land, but this ruling has yet to be implemented.
The arrests of Abdallah Abu Rahma and other prominent activists against the fence/wall in 2010 have been part of a crackdown on those voicing their opposition to the construction of the fence/wall.
The Israeli 700-kilometre fence/wall runs through the West Bank, encircling Palestinian villages as well as whole neighbourhoods in and around East Jerusalem.
Palestinians in the West Bank are subjected to Israeli military laws including Order No. 101, “Order Regarding Prohibition of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda Actions”, which was issued shortly after the beginning of the Israeli occupation in 1967 and carries a maximum 10-year sentence.
The order enables sweeping restrictions to be placed on freedom of expression, requiring any proposed gathering of 10 or more persons “for a political purpose of for a matter that could be interpreted as political” or even to “to discuss such a topic” to obtain a permit in advance from the commander of the Israeli military forces in the area.
Since 2010 charges under Order No. 101 have been used increasingly by the Israeli authorities against Palestinians who organize demonstrations against Israel’s fence/wall.