Palestinian Human Rights Defender Sentenced to Nine Years Imprisonment
Palestinian human rights defender and activist Ameer Makhoul was sentenced to nine years in jail on Sunday, 30 January on charges of spying and contact with a foreign agent.
Makhoul, who serves as General Director of Ittijah – The Union of Arab Community-Based Associations and Chairman of the Public Committee for the Protection of Political Freedoms, was arrested on 6 May 2010, by the Israeli General Security Service and police. His original charge also included aiding the enemy (Hezbollah) in time of war, which in Israel includes a penalty of life in prison.
Makhoul signed a plea bargain with the Israeli authorities on 27 October 2010, according to which he would be given a reduced sentence on reduced charges.
“My husband is being punished severely today for supporting social and political justice. He has been wronged and by his sentencing they are trying to scare the Arabic population in Israel,” said Makhoul’s wife Janan in court Sunday.
His brother, former Knesset Member Issam Makhoul, told Israel’s Ynet News: “This is not about harming State security. They are trying to hurt his freedom of expression. This is political persecution against a man who has contributed so much and didn’t try to harm the State. He acted according to the law.”
When Israeli General Security Service and police raided Ameer Makhoul’s home in Haifa at 6am on 6 May, and arrested him, he was taken to an Israeli security facility and kept from meeting with a lawyer or speaking with his family for nearly two weeks. During this time he confessed to the accusations. It is strongly believed that the confession was coerced.
Dr. Hatem Kanaane, chairperson of the Popular Committee in Defense and Solidarity with Ameer Makhoul said “A difficult decision was reached by Ameer, his family, attorneys and the solidarity committee to accept the reality of this place and conclude a plea bargain for Ameer.”
Dr. Kananne further added that, “After 16 hours of sleep deprivation and being tied to a chair in a manner that constitutes torture, Ameer told them he would sign whatever false charges they want. He was broken.”
Although the Israeli authorities confiscated numerous computers and documents belonging to Ameer, the Ittijah organization and Ameer’s family, in addition to listening to over 30,000 conversations of Ameer in the previous two years, the Israeli authorities found no evidence against Ameer apart from his own statement.
Orna Kohn from Adalah: The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and one of Makhoul’s lawyers, said that “Israeli law defines very broadly the so-called security offenses, which criminalizes behavior or action that no one would expect to see included in a clause of the Criminal Code. The result is that it is very easy for the general attorney to convince a court that a person is guilty. ”
When a Palestinian is accused of endangering the state of Israel it is next to impossible to escape any time of prison time, even if there is little to no evidence to support the claim. Ameer now joins the thousands of other Palestinian prisoners, currently serving sentences in Israeli prisons from crimes they never committed. His family, friends and the community he served so faithfully will be anxiously waiting for his release.
Prior to his sentencing Makhoul spoke out saying: “Any sentence will be considered in my eyes to be cruel and vindictive against the Arab population and its legitimate battle here and across the world. The court must prove whether they are a courthouse or the Shin Bet, a place of justice or the backyard of the Shin Bet. I’ve admitted to the charges as part of a forced reality, and I intend to continue my legitimate work for the Palestinian population in Israel.”