Palestinian West Bank human rights defender sentenced to one year in jail

An Israeli military court in Ofer Prison has today sentenced Palestinian West Bank organizer of protests against The Wall in Bil’in, Abdallah Abu Rahmah, to one year in prison, plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years, and a fine of 5,000 NIS (shekels) — which, at the current devalued rate of the dollar, is equivalent to $1388 U.S. dollars.

Israeli activist Jonathan Pollack, who was present, reports by email that “In the sentencing, the judge cited the non-implementation of an Israeli High Court ruling which declared the current route of the wall on Bil’in’s land illegal as a mitigating factor”.

Abu Rahmah, who is coordinator of the Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was convicted of “organizing illegal demonstrations” and “incitement” — but cleared of other charges of stone-throwing and weapons possession.

The EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton called Abu Rahmeh a “Human Rights Defender”, in a statement after his conviction was tannounced in late August.

UPDATE: What is a Human Rights Defender? “Human rights defenders act to promote and protect the human rights of individuals or groups everywhere. They are often the targets of repression, restrictions and abuse in weak or emerging democracies as well as in States with long-established democratic traditions”, says a press release from the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. The statement added that “Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay reminded the assembly that States must protect human rights defenders in compliance with human rights standards and with the Human Rights Council resolution on cooperation with the UN, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights adopted in October 2009. ‘States also bear the primary responsibility to ensure that acts of intimidation and violence against human rights advocates and victims are punished. To that end, States must investigate violations and prosecute perpetrators irrespective of their affiliation. In order to do so States may need to carry out necessary reforms to improve access to justice for victims and their defenders, apply the rule of law and ensure the independence of judges and lawyers’, she said”. This is posted on the ohchr.org website here. In 1998, the UN adopted a Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders), which sets out the commitments of Member States. This Declaration is explained here, and posted in full here.  It was adopted in Geneva, then incorporated into a  UNGA resolution in New York, on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is posted in full in a special page on this blog, here.]  Eleven years later, the UN Human Rights Council’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders stated (in a December 2009 report to the UN General Assembly), that “The growing characterization of human rights defenders as ‘terrorists’, ‘enemies of the State’ or ‘political opponents’ by State authorities and State-owned media is a particularly worrying trend, as it is regularly used to delegitimize the work of defenders and increase their vulnerability … States should refrain from portraying human rights defenders and their activities as dangerous, illegal or a threat to the security of the State. Their important role and efforts in the promotion, protection and the full enjoyment of human rights by all should instead be praised. The Special Rapporteur would like to recall the primary importance of acknowledging the work and role of groups, organs or individuals in the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is the first step towards a safe working environment for defenders. By adopting the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States have committed themselves to recognizing their valuable role in the elimination of human rights violations and should therefore act accordingly at the national level”. The document in which this is stated is posted here.

As the UN Special Rapporteur’s report notes: “article 10 of the Declaration [on Human Rights Defenders] [says] that ‘no one shall participate, by act or by failure to act where required, in violating human rights and fundamental freedoms’.”

The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders also says that “Everyone has the right..to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights”, and that “Everyone is entitled..to be protected..in reacting to, or opposing, through peaceful means..acts..by States that result in HR violations”…

The Special Rapporteur also notes in her report that “Peaceful public demonstrations, rallies and strikes to denounce human rights violations continue to be moments of particular vulnerability. Defenders are increasingly targeted in the run-up to demonstrations and suffer from the use of excessive force by authorities during peaceful protests”.

[The IDF routinely and regularly states that the West Bank protests against The Wall are “violent” and “riots”.]

The EU statement stated that Abu Rahmah is “committed to non-violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil’in”, and added that it “considers the route of the barrier where it is built on Palestinian land to be illegal.  The High Representative is deeply concerned that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner”.

Abu Rahmah has already been detained in prison for the past ten months, thoughout the trial process.

Abdallah Abu Rahmah at his sentencing hearing in Ofer on 11 October - via Desertpeace

Photo via DesertPeace blog

Amnesty International has already indicated that if Abu Rahmah were to be sentenced to a jail term, it would consider him a “prisoner of conscience”.