Israeli authorities must drop all charges against Palestinian human rights defender Issa Amro, who is facing prison time for his internationally recognized peaceful activism against Israel’s illegal settlements in the city of Hebron, Amnesty International said today.
Issa Amro’s trial is due to begin on 23 November at Ofer Military Court in the occupied West Bank.
“The deluge of charges against Issa Amro does not stand up to any scrutiny. In their determination to silence him and stifle his human rights work, the Israeli authorities have apparently even reopened a closed case file. If he is convicted we will consider Issa Amro a prisoner of conscience,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
“As well as dropping the baseless and politically motivated charges against Issa Amro, the Israeli authorities should investigate his allegations of beatings in custody, and the physical and verbal abuse hurled at him by settlers, the army and the police. People who speak out about human rights abuses should be protected, not assaulted and harassed.”
Issa Amro is a Palestinian human rights defender who runs the Youth Against Settlements group in Hebron. He and his group are committed to non-violent activism against the illegal settlements in Hebron and the discriminatory restrictions placed on Palestinians by the Israeli authorities in the city. Issa Amro documents human rights violations in the city, organizes peaceful protests and distributes information about the settlements and the Israeli military occupation to visitors, journalists and diplomats.
On 7 June 2016, 18 charges were levelled against Issa Amro at Ofer Military Court, some going back as far as 2010. They range from “insulting a soldier” to “assault”.
Some of the charges, such as “participating in a march without a permit”, are not internationally recognizable criminal offences.
One of the charges of assault refers to an incident in a protest on 20 March 2013 that took place after Issa Amro had already been arrested and was therefore not present. A video from the scene clearly shows another man was responsible for the incident, in which a settler’s camera was broken.
The protest was a peaceful one that coincided with US President Barack Obama’s visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Protesters wore masks of Obama’s face, wore T-shirts with “I have a dream” written on them, and waved the Palestinian flag – actions that the authorities considered political, and therefore criminal.
Issa Amro told Amnesty International that he immediately realized that the charges were solely motivated by his activism, especially as many were from so long ago, and one case had previously been closed. His lawyer, Gaby Lasky, said that it was extremely unusual for cases to be re-opened in this way, and that the proper procedures to do so had not been followed by the police.
A charge from 8 July 2013 relates to a conversation with a border policeman in which Issa Amro asked to be given back his ID after the border policeman took it for an ID check and kept Issa Amro waiting for half an hour. He said he told the policeman:
“I want my ID back, I am not wanted, and if you had called to check you would know this. But you have not called, I know, I am not stupid.”
According to Issa Amro the policeman appeared to mishear this as “you are stupid”, resulting in a further charge of “insulting a soldier”.
Issa Amro said that he was then taken to the police station and hit so hard in the back by a police officer that he still has to take medication. He said the officers would not let him go to hospital for three hours, and that they ensured he went to a Palestinian facility so that news of his beating would not be reported in Israel.
“Issa Amro has faced a sustained campaign of harassment and assault at the hands of the Israeli military and settlers because of his activism. His case is emblematic of the climate of increasing hostility towards activists who protest the settlements, which are illegal under international law,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.
“We believe that he is facing trial solely for the peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and assembly. Imprisoning Issa Amro would be a travesty of justice and would silence yet another important critical voice in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.”
Amnesty International has documented a pattern of attacks on Palestinian human rights defenders, including Issa Amro, in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). An escalation of acts of intimidation by the government and attacks and threats by settlers and other non-state actors have created an increasingly dangerous environment for activists in Israel and in the OPT.
Hebron is one of two Palestinian cities in the OPT that have illegal Israeli settlements inside them. The Israeli authorities have long imposed a set of severe and deeply discriminatory restrictions on movement on Palestinian residents of Hebron that have amounted to collective punishment. Israeli forces in Hebron frequently fail to prevent attacks on Palestinians by settlers, and almost never hold those responsible to account.