Scales for Justice

Working towards peace and reconciliation

Abdallah Abu Rahma

Scales for Justice (S4J) has sent an urgent appeal to several UN Special Procedures urging them to take action in the case of Human Rights Defender Abdallah Abu Rahma who was found guilty by an Israeli military court of “disturbing a soldier” on 21 October 2014. His sentence was initially due to be handed down on 1 December 2014, but has been postponed to 23 February 2015.  

Abdullah Abu Rahma is a former high school school teacher and coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall, a nonviolence resistance movement which opposes to the illegal Occupation of the West Bank. From the beginning of their activities in 2005 on on members of the Popular Committee have been systematically targeted by the Israeli Occupation authorities.

Abdullah Abu Rahma was first arrested on 10 December 2009, when soldiers raided his house in the middle of the night. He was subsequently indicted on charges that included stone-throwing and arms possession. Although in 2010 an Israeli military court cleared Abdullah Abu Rahma of all charges connecting him with direct violence, Abdallah was later sentenced to twelve months imprisonment, plus 6 months suspended sentence for 3 years and a fine of 5,000 NIS.

According to Abdallah Abu Rahma’s lawyer Gaby Lasky Abdallah’s conviction was a “blatant illustration by the Israeli authorities' the application of legal procedures for the political persecution of Bil’in residents”, who were “being systemically targeted”.  Similarly the EU High Representative Catherine Ashton stated that “the High Representative is concerned by the conviction of 39-year-old Abdallah Abu Rahma … The EU considers Abdallah Abu Rahma to be a Human Rights Defender committed to nonviolent protest … (and) 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 nonviolent manner.

In March 2011, Abdallah Abu Rahma was released after serving 16 months.  

Events in 2014/ 2015

On 13 May 2012, Abdallah Abu Rahma was arrested again in front of Ofer Military Prison during a nonviolent demonstration when he stood in front of a bulldozer and tried to prevent the Israeli army from setting up road blocks, which commonly serve as a shield for army snipers and soldiers. He was arrested and held for few hours before being released on bail.

Abdallah Abu Rahma was not summoned to court until almost one year later when the Israeli Army re-opened the case in clear relation to the success of the popular committees in the construction of the Palestinian villages Baab El Shams, of whom Abdallah Abu Rahma was one of the main organizers. On 21 October 2014 Abdallah Abu Rahma was declared guilty and on 5 January 2015 the Military Court will state the sentence. Under Israeli military law, the “attempt, to influence public opinion in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order" carries a 10 years maximal sentence.

During a sentencing hearing on 8 February 2015 the military prosecution argued that Abdallah should be sentenced to a prison term of "many months" as well as a deterring suspended sentence and a very severe fine. The prosecution claimed that despite the non-violent nature of the event at question and despite the fact that there was no pendingntence against Abdallah for the offense in which he was convicted the court should "convey an unequivocal message according to which demonstrators have an absolute duty to obey orders given by the security forces, and whoever disobeys them should expect to be imprisoned."

The military prosecution further claimed that Abu Rahmah commits ideological crimes, thus his chance for rehabilitation is low and he must receive a punishment that will deter him from similar things in the future. In a statement released after the hearing, Abu Rahmah said his trial is proof that the army is punishing him for his nonviolent resistance. He stated that there are many young Palestinians who are jailed for the same reasons, in blatant violation of their human rights. “I will be sentenced on February 23,” said Abu Rahmah. “All this because I want freedom and justice, for the security and peace of the Palestinians. All we want is to liberate our land.”

February 2015 - the verdict

On 23 February 2015 Abdallah Aburahma was convicted to a four months suspended sentence, to be activated if during the next three years Abdallah would commit any act offense which has an element of violence or an act of disturbing a soldier in the line of his duty; and a fine of 5000 NIS (~1300 USD). In the verdict the reference was made to Abdallah's previous convictions for public order related offenses, including incitement.

Although the judge referred to the fact that almost three years have passed since the incident, during which Abdallah was not convicted nor arrested for any other offense and also claimed that he "did not ignore" the EU human rights defender declaration and Amnesty International's announcement, the judge concluded that Abdallah's punishment should be deterring and imposed the highest possible to this offense.

The verdict seriously contradicted the explicit finding from the initial conviction of October 20, 2014, when it the court had claimed that Abdallah was not convicted for participating in a demonstragion and merely blocked a tractor, without any relation to others who were on the scene. The main issue therefore remains Abdallah's unjust conviction in this case.  

A clear kangaroo court 

Abdallah Abu Rahma hugging his daughter good bye ahead of the sentencing hearing on 8 February 2015, Source: Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, PSCC

S4J sees the trial against Abdallah Abu Rahma as a clear kangaroo court, aimed at deterring him and others from taking part in the legitimate protest against the illegal occupation and confiscation of their land.

Abdallah’s conviction is further a clear violation of Article 9 of the ICCPR, holding that “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.” According to the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, this article must be interpreted to include elements of inappropriateness, injustice, lack of predictability and due process of law.

S4J called on the UN to urgently remind the Israeli authorities of their obligation under international law to guarantee freedom of speech and end their systematic harassment of human rights defenders, and immediately clear Abdallah Abu Rahma from vexatious charges and allegations.

UN communication

Following the letters sent by S4J, in early June 2015 the UN finally published a communication sent to the Israeli government on behalf of Abdallah Aburahma. Such letters remain confidential until the next communication report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) prepared for each regular session of the Human Rights Council.

The communication was signed by 6 UN mandates, including the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; the Special Rapporteur (SR) on human rights defenders; the SR on the independence of judges and lawyers; the SR on freedom of opinion and expression; the SR freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the SR on Palestine, Mr Marakim Wibisono. A copy of the letter can be found here.

In its letter the UN experts stated that Abdallah Aburahma was at "imminent risk of arbitrary detention". The experts further expressed their concern that "the arrest, prosecution and possible detention of Abdallah Aburahma may be related to his legitimate human rights activities and his exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of opinion and expression". Further concern was expressed that Abdallah Aburahma was "not provided with adequate guarantees of due process and fair trial, including the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, as he was prosecuted before a military court."

General concern was also expressed about the "inherent questionability of the use of military courts, falling short of international human rights standards on due process and fair trial, to try Palestinians". Israel should indicate what measures have been taken to ensure that Palestinian human rights defenders and civil society activists can operate in an enabling environment and are able to carry out their legitimate work without fear of prosecution and criminalization, the experts concluded.

S4J considers the letter sent by the UN as a great success of joint efforts for justice and will continue to advocate for the rights of all, especially with regard to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear, and freedom from want.

In the picture Abdallah Aburahma during his visit to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2015.