The European Union High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy has again issued a statement deploring Israel's treatment of Bil'in popular committee leader Abdallah Abu Rahmah. The statement, dated on 21 January 2011, said, “"The High Representative deplores the decision of an Israeli military court to increase to 16 months the sentence of Mr. Abdallah Abu Rahma, a peaceful Palestinian activist committed to non violent protest against the route of the Israeli separation barrier through his West Bank village of Bil'in. She recalls the legitimate right of the Palestinians to engage in peaceful demonstrations" Ashton's statement echoes similar statements by the governments of England and France deploring the extensions of Abu Rahmah's sentence. Amnesty International also labeled Abu Rahmah a 'prison of conscience' following the extension of his prison sentence.
After ordering to keep Abdallah Abu Rahmah in detention past his release date on the 18th of November 2010, the Military Court of Appeals sided with the prosecution's appeal demanding to aggravate the one-year sentence imposed on Abu Rahmah. The prosecution asked the court to harshen the sentence so that it exceeds two years imprisonment. However, the judge gave a sentence of a total of sixteen months. He has been in jail for exactly thirteen months and one day. He will now serve three more months to complete the sixteen month sentence.
On October 11th 2010, Abu Rahmah was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment for his prominent role in his village's successful campaign against the construction of Israel's Separation Barrier on its lands. Abu Rahmah was convicted of two Freedom of Expression charges - incitement and organizing illegal demonstrations, but was cleared of all charges connecting him with direct violence.
Abu Rahmah was to be released from prison on November 18th, when the prison term he was sentenced to ended, but was kept in jail on the order of the Military Court of Appeals. The controversial decision directly conflicts with the jurisprudence of the Israeli Hight Court on the issue, instructing that a prisoner should only be kept under arrest after his term was over in the most extenuating of circumstances.
Abu Rahmah was declared a human rights defender by the European Union, and his conviction and sentence generated international outrage, and was denounced by human rights organizations and the international community alike, including EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was arrested last year by soldiers who raided his home at the middle of the night and was subsequently indicted before an Israeli military court on unsubstantiated charges that included stone-throwing and arms possession. Abu Rahmah was cleared of both the stone-throwing and arms possession charges, but convicted of organizing illegal demonstrations and incitement.
An exemplary case of mal-use of the Israeli military legal system in the West Bank for the purpose of silencing legitimate political dissent, Abu Rahmah's conviction was subject to harsh international criticism. The EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, expressed her deep concern "that the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest[...]", after EU diplomats attended all hearings in Abu Rahmah's case. Ashton's statement was followed by one from the Spanish Parliament.
Renowned South African human right activist, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called on Israel to overturn Abu Rahmah's conviction on behalf of the Elders, a group of international public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates, brought together by Nelson Mandela. Members of the Elders, including Tutu, have met with Abu Rahmah on their visit to Bil'in prior to his arrest.
International human rights organization Amnesty International condemned Abu Rahmah's conviction as an assault on the right to freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch denounced the conviction, pronouncing the whole process "an unfair trial".
Israeli organizations also distributed statements against the conviction – including a statement by B’Tselem which raises the issue of questionable testimonies by minors used to convict Abu Rahme, and The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) which highlights the impossibility of organizing legal demonstrations for Palestinians in the West Bank.
Abu Rahmah, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, was acquitted of two out of the four charges brought against him in the indictment - stone-throwing and a ridiculous and vindictive arms possession charge.
According to the indictment, Abu Rahmah collected used tear-gas projectiles and bullet casings shot at demonstrators, with the intention of exhibiting them to show the violence used against demonstrators. This absurd charge is a clear example of how eager the military prosecution is to use legal procedures as a tool to silence and smear unarmed dissent.
The court did, however, find Abu Rahmah guilty of two of the most draconian anti-free speech articles in military legislation: incitement, and organizing and participating in illegal demonstrations. It did so based only on testimonies of minors who were arrested in the middle of the night and denied their right to legal counsel, and despite acknowledging significant ills in their questioning.
The court was also undeterred by the fact that the prosecution failed to provide any concrete evidence implicating Abu Rahmah in any way, despite the fact that all demonstrations in Bil'in are systematically filmed by the army.
Under military law, incitement is defined as "The attempt, verbally or otherwise, to influence public opinion in the Area in a way that may disturb the public peace or public order" (section 7(a) of the Order Concerning Prohibition of Activities of Incitement and Hostile Propaganda (no.101), 1967), and carries a 10 years maximal sentence.