Russian Compound, Jerusalem - Danger to Regional Security, Remand Extension

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Judith Spitzer, Ofra Ben-Artzi (reporting)

Translation: Marganit W.

Russian Compound

Judge: Tal Rosenzweig

Two investigators (policemen): Jalal Awida, Shan'an

Defense: Fahmi Shakirat

This report describes an important and unusual discussion that took place between the judge and the investigators regarding our lawful right to be present in the court when the defense is pleading in cases where the detainee is barred from meeting with his attorney.

Unfortunately, at the end of the day, the doors were slammed behind us, and we had to stay in the waiting room, barred from attending the hearing. Thus, we cannot report on the four cases that went on behind closed doors.

We arrived at 10:30 and had to wait on the stairs leading to the detention center because of a drill that took place inside. On the stairs stood a new detainee and a soldier, who held the detainee's green ID card [from the Occupied territories]. The detainee was blindfolded, his hands bound tightly behind his back with a white string.  He seemed frail and in pain. Judith asked the soldier to let him sit down. It was not easy, being handcuffed and blindfolded. She handed the soldier a water bottle to give to the detainee. The latter drank it eagerly and thanked her faintly, ‘Shukran'. The soldier refused to tell us where and why the man had been arrested.

AT 11:00 we entered the detention center. Attorney Shkirat told us he would be representing 4 detaineesinfo-icon who are "barred" (in one case he was replacing Attorney Firas). Hence, we were surprised that nobody stopped us from attending the hearing, seeing that they were conducted "in camerainfo-icon", as was the case during the passed few weeks. Eventually the case of Firas's client was not discussed, and only Shakirat's three detainees had their hearings.

In the small, air conditioned hall, the judge and the typists were busy preparing for the hearing. Before the judge opened the session, the investigator twice asked the judge to send us out of the hall because the session was "in camera". The judge was busy with his documents and did not respond. Perhaps he did not hear, but then he opened the session and said the following:

Judge: The officer requests that the hearing be "in camera" for reasons of 'Danger to Regional Security'...
Is there an objection to the session being conducted partly behind closed doors and partly with open doors?

Investigator:  This is what we did in the past... We have now determined that all sessions should be "in camera".

Judge: Please submit your reasons in writing and the court will decide. What is in the case that prevents an open discussion in the part where the attorney represents the client?

The investigator writes down some notes. His colleague joins him, dictating something from the file. This lasts a few minutes. The judge reiterates that they must explain why our presence would endanger security to the region. When the investigators are done, they hand their notes to the judge. He points to one phrase, stating that they must be "concrete" when it comes to "security in the region". What ensued then is hard for us to recapture in a clear and consistent manner. The judge referred to some law regarding "a certain problem" and stated that it was "something that was in any case forbidden by law" and then:

Investigator: Lately, everything we say is being published.

Judge: This is according to the law. If you want to publish something that was said "in camera", you must obtain permission from the court. Not so in an open court case.

Investigator: This is being taken care of.

Judge: Whatever is said in an open court can be published. Can part of the hearing be conducted with open doors?

Investigator: This will defy the purpose.

Judge: The court should be open to the public, unless there are problems. Can part of the case be discussed in the presence of the defense? This has been done before.

Investigator: We noticed this only recently. Can't you see? They write down every word. Everything is posted on the Internet. It impacts the security in the region. We are taking care of the legality. We requested that the hearing be conducted "in camera" and the defense did not object. Nor did the judges in the last few weeks...

Judge: Stick to the relevant point.

The investigator resumes his writing of the reasons for "in camera" hearings, i.e. for throwing us out of court.

Five minutes later, he hands the notes to the judge and the two confer quietly. The judge instructs the investigator to bring (from his superiors, presumably) documents from other cases, where "in camera" hearings were requested.

It is 11:20. We all wait until 11:40 when the investigator bursts into the room without the required documents. " We caused an international crisis," he tells he judge.

Another investigator comes in, perhaps a superior officer. After whispering with the judge, the latter asks us politely to leave the court. Judith wants to know the judge's name and asks whether our banishment is limited to the first case or to all three. The judge introduces himself to her and says the ruling applies to all three cases.

We saw no documents, but the hearings were all conducted "in camera".

Later, the defense attorney told us that an "investigation agent" had handed the judge a secret document, which convinced him that all hearings should be "in camera" despite the judge's considerable attempts to enable us to attend the hearings.

We now await our own lawyers' examination of this issue.