Israeli court refuses (again) to release poet Dareen Tatour

(The following report was published in +972. It was initially published in Hebrew in “Local Call” and Haifa Ha-Hofshit. All photos courtesy of Oren Ziv of Activestills.org.)

The media calm in recent months could have fooled the casual reader into thinking that the trial of Dareen Tatour for her poetry has already ended. After all, how much can the state abuse the poet for one poem and two statuses on Facebook?

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Dareen Tatour in court, Nov 20, 2017

The silence is misleading. More than two years and two months after her arrest in October 2015, Tatour’s trial drags on languidly in the Nazareth court with no end in sight. On Monday, December 4, the remand judge once again rejected her request to be released from the house arrest imposed on her “until the end of legal proceedings.”

New testimony regarding “The Next Martyr”

Tatour, 35, from Reineh near Nazareth, was arrested by Israeli police on October 11th, 2015, and later indicted of incitement to violence and support of a terrorist organization, all for publishing a poem, “Resist my people, resist them”, and two Facebook statuses. The prosecution claimed that her publications at the beginning of October 2015 should be read in the context of the Palestinian “third intifada”, which

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Dareen Tatour prepared a handmade gift to her lawyers, Gaby Lasky (left) and Haya Abu-Wardeh (right)

was characterized by attacks by unorganized individuals. Tatour replied that in all her publication there is no call for violence, to which she objects, and that they express legitimate protest and call for struggle against Israeli restrictions on the right of Muslims to pray in Al-Aqsa and against the crimes of the occupation and in particular the killing of innocent Palestinians. She also claimed, and brought experts to prove this claim, that the police both mistranslated and misinterpreted her poem.

Following her arrest, Tatour was jailed for three months in three different prisons. She was later released to strict house arrest, forced to wear an ankle monitor. As the authorities demanded that she will be distanced from the Nazareth region, her family had to rent an apartment in Kiryat Ono, just outside Tel Aviv, to hold her there. She was forbidden from using the Internet.

Gradually, through many appeals and legal battles, which met stiff resistance from the prosecution, the conditions of the house arrest were somewhat eased. In July 2016 she was allowed to continue her house arrest at her home, and in November of that year the ankle was removed. Gradually she was allowed to get out of the house for limited hours, but she should be accompanied by custodians at every step.

The last witness in the case was heard on April 27, and the judge gave each of the parties 45 days to submit written summaries. The prosecution requested a postponement and finally submitted its summaries at the end of June.

While working on the defense summaries, the team from Attorney Gabi Lasky’s office came upon an important piece of evidence concerning one of the main points of the indictment, the publication of a profile picture with the text “I’m the next martyr” (the word was written in its masculine form, “shaheed”, in Arabic). In fact, as we learned from the testimonies of the police officers during the trial, the

I am the next martyr

“I’m the next martyr” – the profile picture that started the whole affair. It is designed as an obituary. Facebook shows the publication date – July 2014. The court refused to accept this evidence.

publication of this picture was the immediate trigger for the night raid on the poet’s home and her “military style” detention. Dumb “police intelligence” interpreted this status as a declaration of her intention to carry out an attack. Only after the arrest did officers search through Tatour’s Facebook and found the other publications that are mentioned in the indictment.

Tatour explained during both her police interrogations and testimony in court that she, along with many others, shared this profile picture to protest the killing of innocent Palestinians. It was published, for example, after the burning alive of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem in July 2014, and as a response to the police killing of Kheir Hamdan in Kafr Kana (just near Reineh) in November of that year.

The prosecutor claimed in her summaries that Tatour had lied about the publication date of this picture. As evidence she mentioned that it was found on Tatour’s phone as a file dated just prior to her detention. The police computer expert was asked during cross-examination whether he had checked when Tatour first published the picture. He said he did not know whether there was any way to check it.

The defense found the picture on Tatour’s Facebook page, and Facebook itself clearly shows the date of its first publication in July 2014, as she originally claimed. Moreover, the publication of the picture in the context of protests against Abu Khdeir’s murder also shows the context in which Tatour uses the word shaheed as a “martyr” or “victim” of Israeli violence, rather than as an attacker, a subject that has been at the center of much of the trial.

Evidence of discriminatory enforcement

From the beginning of the trial, the defense argued that Tatour’s arrest and trial constituted discriminatory enforcement, while others who had published far more “offensive” material were neither investigated nor tried. In particular, the defense argued that the attitude of the police and the prosecution is biased against the Arab public. However, the prevailing atmosphere in Israeli courts, which view every Arab protesting against the regime as a security risk, makes this claim difficult to prove. It can always be argued that every publication has special circumstances that are taken into account.

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Tatour and supporters after the court hearing on December 4, 2017

In an unexpected coincidence, the defense found a golden opportunity to strengthen its argument when Israel’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev, published the exact same video on her Facebook page for which Tatour was indicted, in which she reads “Resist My People, Resist Them.” The minister did so in response to the screening of the video as part of reading Tatour’s trial protocols during solidarity event in Jaffa last August. This is no longer a comparison between various publications, since both Regev and Tatour published the very same video. The rough Hebrew translation added by the minister, as well as the new title of the video (“where do you think this video was screened?”) cannot change the “severity” of the publication, had it really been an offense in the first place.

Another important detail is the scope of audience reached by the video. The indictment states that up to a few days after Tatour’s detention, her video was viewed 153 times (according to YouTube’s count, which includes some views by the interrogators themselves). In her summary, the prosecutor speaks of the “enormous potential for exposure” of Tatour publications on the Internet. On the other hand, the same video had tens of thousands of views on Regev’s Facebook page. Surprisingly, the minister was neither arrested nor interrogated, and apparently was not even requested to remove the dangerous video.

Evidence rejected and evidence accepted

Attorney Lasky submitted a request to the court to add the two new pieces of evidence to the case. It should have been a simple technical procedure.

However, in this specific case, the prosecution is conducting a war of attrition on every detail. After lengthy negotiations, an additional hearing of the trial was scheduled for November 15 to discuss the admissibility of the new evidence. In this hearing, the prosecutor demanded that whoever took the screenshot from Tatour’s Facebook page be cross-examined as a condition for its submission. This meant allowing the prosecutor to interrogate either Tatour herself or her attorney, Haya Abu Warda. Finally, the defense team decided not to agree to such an interrogation, which could have opened the door for the prosecutor to raise additional issues, giving up the opportunity to submit the new evidence.

Regarding the video from Regev’s Facebook page, however, the prosecution took a different line. It agreed to submit the video as evidence if the prosecution would also be allowed to submit other videos from Regev’s Facebook page in which she rails against Tatour and those in solidarity with her. For some reason, it was suddenly possible to submit videos from Facebook without the need to interrogate witnesses. Apparently the prosecutor was convinced that Regev’s incitement against Tatour would affect the judge more than the legal argument of discriminatory enforcement.

Oral summaries after written summaries

The prosecutor used the presentation of the additional evidence for yet another procedural victory. When the testimonies stage came to an end, the prosecutor requested to move to oral summaries, while the defense insisted on its right to submit written summaries. When the judge accepted the defense’s request, the prosecutor requested the opportunity to respond to the defense summaries. She explained that during verbal summaries, she could interrupt the defense’s statement, which would not be possible during written summaries. The judge ignored this unusual request.

Now, because of the additional evidence, the judge has scheduled a round of oral summaries to be heard on December 28, after the written summaries are submitted.

Legal struggle over the house arrest

By now it has been over two years and two months since Tatour’s arrest. Even when she is allowed to leave her house during the day, she must be accompanied at all times by a court-authorized custodian. Under such conditions it is clear that she cannot work or live a normal life.

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Full courtroom – November 20, 2017

In most cases, the conditions of detention are relieved with the passage of time with the consent of the prosecution. But in Tatour’s case, the prosecution continues to stress the poet’s supposed dangerousness and opposes any relief. In view of the prolonged trial with no clear end date, Lasky filed an application to cancel Tatour’s house arrest. The request was heard on November 20 before Judge Naaman Idris, the same judge who, two years ago, ordered Tatour’s detention until the end of legal proceedings. The hall was full of friends who came to support the poet, hoping that the show of support would encourage the judge rethink the case. The prosecutor repeated her objection to granting Tatour any relief without even bothering to explain.

The judge delayed his judgment to December 4. When we arrived at the appointed time, about ten friends and family, the judge allowed us “dry” in his room for about an hour and a half while he was handling many other cases. Finally, he was kind enough to make a short statement, which required less than a minute, announcing that he had rejected the request to cancel the detention. The judgment itself was already written before the hearing. In order to show that he does not ignore the lengthening of the detention for such a long period of time, he extended the period during which Tatour is allowed to leave the house, to between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., but  she still must be accompanied by a custodian, which means that the relief is only symbolic.

You may read details about all the hearings in Dareen Tatour’s trial and follow the latest updates in http://FreeDareenTatour.org/trial

 

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Some breathing space in Dareen Tatour’s house detention

As we went out of the crowded courtroom of judge Margalit in Nazareth, we were all smiles. The tense waiting for the judge’s decision gave way to hugging and bursts of laughter. It is astonishing how happy you can be for such a little victory. After all, Dareen Tatour will soon finish her second year in detention for writing a perfectly legitimate protest poem, and within a few months she is expected to be sentenced and there is a real danger that she will be sent for another period in prison.Dareen celebrating victory 3 supervisors

But this was the time to celebrate a small victory. I couldn’t avoid the comparison with the much larger recent victory of the struggle of the Palestinian people that forced the Israeli occupation to remove the new harassing “security” arrangements from around the Al-Aqsa mosque. Cold headed analysts summed it at “the magnetometers went out, the occupation is here to stay”. But still it was a big victory to popular struggle and it showed that there is some limit to the power of evil. It was rightly celebrated on the street of Jerusalem as an important step on the way to liberty.

Time has many dimensions

Whenever Dareen Tatour requests for relief in the conditions of her detention, the prosecution and judges pretend to know nothing about the constant delays in their courts, and claim that the trial is going to end so soon that any change will be just unnecessary burden on the system. Last time, on May 22, when the judge allowed Dareen to go out of the house between 9am and 7pm, she said she assumes this is the last request for relief. But she limited Dareen by stating that she can’t go out of the house unless accompanied at every moment by one of her 5 certified “supervisors” – her parents, two brothers and a sister in law. The official reasoning was that, as Dareen is prevented from any access to the internet, there should be somebody to watch her at any moment to make sure that she doesn’t touch a smartphone or a computer. At the occasion she also added a new condition that prevents Dareen from attending any political gathering and demanded an upfront payment of another 6,000 shekel on top of all the previous bails. (A detailed report in Hebrew).

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Consulting advocate Haya Abu Warda

But this “solution” created a new problem. Four of the five “supervisors” are working every day, and Dareen’s mother is busy caring for a bunch of her small grandchildren while their parents are at work. So Dareen could hardly enjoy her promised new freedom and is still forced to stay in the house all day long. The real solution was to let Dareen free, at least until the end of the trial, which is the case of many violent criminals in Israeli courts. But, knowing the hard stance of the prosecution in this particular case, three of the women that accompany Dareen in her ordeal volunteered to provide a practical partial solution by asking to be certified as supervisors in order to enable Dareen get out of her house more frequently.

The request to add the three new supervisors was presented by Dareen’s lawyers to the court, which requested them to get the position of the prosecution before setting a hearing. The prosecution first didn’t reply, then said they are ready to allow only two new supervisors, and finally, after dragging the issue for about two months, refused to accept any new supervisors. Finally the court set the date to hear the plea for August 1st, at 9am.

Luck and Reason

On that morning judge Margalit was on rotating duty to hear all the coming detention cases. The courtroom was full, as well as the waiting hall. After he finished sending a poor (blonde Jewish) women for 3 months in jail for “refusing to obey a legal order” and “disrupting a policeman’s work”, he freed himself to serve the many groups of prosecutors, lawyers, detainees and family members that were flocking the room. We readied ourselves for a long wait, but were surprised to hear the name Dareen Tatour coming first – maybe it is our lucky day.

The prosecution was represented by lawyer Ruba Abu Dakka, whom we didn’t see on this case before, probably also in rotating duty while others are on holidays. The judge, who is used to release all types of suspects, including hardened criminals, on a daily basis, and to certify all types of “supervisors”, asked the prosecutor whether there can be an agreement. She said no. So he brought in the proposed supervisors for interrogation, one by one.

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Left to right: Edith, Haya, Dareen, Bilha

The first to be interrogated was Ofra Yeshua Lyth from Yaffa (Jaffa). She told the judge that she knows Dareen from the days that she was under house detention in Kiryat Ono, near Tel Aviv, and that she used to drive Dareen to the court hearings. When asked whether she can come from Yaffa to take care of Dareen in faraway Reineh, she explained that last Friday she did just this – but in addition to taking Dareen for a trip she had to take her father with them as a certified guardian, making him miss another work-day. And here she is today in the Nazareth court again at 9am…

In the “counter interrogation” the prosecutor tried to deter her, telling her that the trial may last many more months, and asking whether she will be able to supervise Dareen over all this period… As if she doesn’t understand that adding more supervisors will make the task easier for all and the new supervisor-friends get the “privilege” to be allowed to take Dareen with them out of the house and not an obligation to do it every day.

The judge was curious and asked a special question “in the name of the court”. Are you a member of some association or a political party? Ofra was happy to answer that she is a member of an association called “I’m an Israeli” that tried to convince the Israeli authorities to declare a unified “Israeli nationality” for all the state’s citizens. They even appealed to the Israeli high court, but their appeal was rejected. The judge seemed satisfied to be able to put the whole case in some political category and asked (not to the protocol) whether all the three candidates belong to the same association.

Finally the prosecutor asked Ofra what she will do in case she would have to go to some political gathering… Ofra promised that she will not take Dareen with her.

Anti-Climax

As Ofra was interrogated the other two volunteers, Bilha Golan and Edith Breslauer, had to wait outside, not to be exposed to the secrets of the interrogation unless their replies will lose authenticity. But even the most foolish confrontation make you tired, and each of the next two interrogations became shorter.

They centered on the main technicalities that are always part of the interrogation of bailers… Do you know what Dareen is accused of? Do you know what limitations are imposed on her? What will you do if she will try to look at the internet? Will you not hesitate to call the police? Are you ready to sign a fiscal guarantee?

Answering the question about what Dareen is accused of gave a rare opportunity to get out of the regular script. Edith said she knows that Dareen is on trial because she wrote some post on Facebook that was misinterpreted. She added that she read Dareen’s poem and doesn’t think it justifies her house detention.

After everything went just perfect, the judge asked the prosecutor again whether there can be an agreed decision… She wanted to call her superiors and went out. After some time she came back and told the judge she has no answer yet. This was too much for the judge that thought the answers in his court come from him. So he let the two sides summarize their positions.

Lawyer Abu Dakka tried to justify the prosecution’s refusenik position. As she didn’t find any reason to object to the new supervisors, she made herself as if she is defending the decision of the previous judge on May 22. She said this decision already made the correct balance between the need to safeguard state security against the danger that Dareen Tatour constitutes and Dareen’s right to freedom. She didn’t mention, of course, that on May 22 the prosecution also objected strongly to letting Dareen to get out of her house for more than 2 hours daily, in the name of the same fake danger to the public.

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Celebrating victory with lawyer Haya Abu Warda

Advocate Haya Abu Warda reminded the court that with the current supervisors Dareen can’t use even the limited freedom that was promised to her in the previous decision. The judge agreed to add the three new supervisors as requested.

(There is a somewhat different report about the same events in Hebrew in Haifa Ha-Hofshit.)

Updates about the trial

In the meantime, the prosecutor has already presented her written 34 pages summary, which repeats and stresses furiously all the original accusations. She even claims that the big differences between the translation of the poem that was done by an unqualified policeman and the professional translation presented by the defense prove that the defense’s translation is not reliable!

Now advocate Gaby Lasky is working on her summaries to disprove all the prosecution’s lies and distortions… It will not be ready before September and the trial will probably not be finished before Dareen will complete her second year of detention on October 11… (For regular updates about the trial check here.)

Solidarity

Keep the date: On August 30 supporters of Dareen Tatour and Freedom of Expression are planning a special solidarity night in Yaffa with a rich artistic program.

We hope more solidarity work will be organized locally and worldwide as the trial is approaching its critical stage toward the verdict.

In the meantime we set up a small Free Dareen Tatour site with updates about the case, in addition to our Facebook page.

And we are still collecting donations to cover the legal expenses.