Bassem Tamimi, one of the leaders of the popular struggle in the Palestinian village of Nabi Saleh, was sentenced today (29 May 2012). Tamimi was arrested in March 2011. His indictment included five counts, all of which were related to organizing weekly demonstrations in the village of Nabi Saleh. Following his arraignment, Tamimi spent 13 months in prison and was released on bail in April 2012. The military court acquitted Tamimi of three of the counts: incitement, failure to comply with a “stabilization” order, and obstruction of justice. He was convicted of organizing protests without a permit and solicitation of stone-throwing.
Tamimi was sentenced to 30 months, 13 months of which he already served and the remaining 17 months on five years’ probation. Additionally, he was sentenced to two months on two years’ probation stipulating the offenses of organizing and taking part in a protest without a permit. The effective meaning of this sentence is the negation of his right to demonstrate and a violation of his freedom of expression for the next two years.
Tamimi’s attorney claims that the convictions were based largely on the illegally obtained testimony of three youths, aged 14, 15 and 19, whose basic rights as minors were violated in the investigation. The court accepted some of these arguments, dismissing two of the testimonies, and basing its decision entirely on the remaining one – that of the 15 year old.
The weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, have taken place since December 2009 in protest of the nearby settlement of Halamish’s takeover of the village’s lands and the Al Qum spring, which used by the village for generations.
The story of Bassem Tamimi, including the conduct of the security forces and judiciary at the weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh, are generally representative of Israel’s attitude to the freedom of expression and the Palestinians’ right to protest in the Occupied Territories. These rights are denied to Palestinians first and foremost through military legislation that defines any demonstration in the Occupied Territories as an illegal demonstration, and authorizes the security forces to disperse them. The actual conduct of security forces in the field also significantly limits the freedom to protest, often employing improper means such as the excessive use of force to disperse protests that has led to the injury and death of protesters; false arrests; violent arrests of minors; and investigations of minors conducted in violation of the law and in flagrant violation of the rights of detainees.
A speech written by Bassem Tamimi’s wife Nariman was read at the Human Rights March held in Tel Aviv to mark International Human Rights Day in December 2011. Nariman Tamimi wrote in her speech: “During a time when the entire world is experiencing a wave of demonstrations and social protests, Bassem and his friends are languishing in the darkness of continuing imprisonment because, in the shadow of the occupation, there is no dignity and no freedom of expression.”
More on freedom of expression and the right to protest in the Occupied Territories: