Israeli Journalist Still Imprisoned 13 Months Without Trial for Insulting Public Officials
By TLB Contributing Author: Marianne Azizi – Israel
With terrorism striking at the heart of citizens worldwide, it is inconceivable that a handful of bloggers could be described as having an ‘Ideology of Evil, worse than ISIS, and insulting a Judge or Public Official to be more heinous a crime than murder.
The Ideology of Evil – is how Judge describes Israeli bloggers.
Insulting judges, social workers and prosecutors is of course difficult for the subjects of blogs. However, it is a measure of a democracy where citizens feel they have this right to freedom of speech. Even more so when exposures where describing the overwhelming level of judicial corruption.
Two Israeli bloggers made it their full time vocation to fight corruption – particularly of Welfare services; making protests outside social worker’s homes (legal), and other protests in public areas.
Lory Shem Tov was a prolific blogger, who set up hundreds of websites in the USA through WordPress. Moti Leybel was an activist who did ‘neighbourhoods’ (single man protests) almost weekly against alleged child kidnapping by the Welfare. With an audience of tens of thousands they became the names synonymous with the fight against the profits made by snatching children into profitable private institutions, in fact $5000 per month per child – and with a staggering 10,000 children taken annually, it was easy to do the maths.
Zvi Zer was also held; a human rights lawyer working across the breadth of legal courts, saving children and parents who had fallen through the cracks of the justice system in Israel. He was indicted for conspiracy. On occasions he had given legal counselling to the bloggers who were increasingly being sued in the civil court for naming and shaming social workers, judges and prosecutors.
On the night of 27th February 2017, a wave of arrests took place across Israel. People who supported the bloggers; or shared Facebook posts and blogs. These 3 remained under arrest, and subsequently indicted in April 2017 after almost 40 days of interrogation. Others were also remanded and questioned, but after days or weeks in prison were allowed to go home with strict circumstances of not using internet for a month.
What was not believed at the time was that Homeland Security had already been working on investigations of the bloggers for years. The announcement of an agreement in the press was months later and portrayed as cooperation against cyber terrorism and hacking. No one could imagine the laws had been quickly adapted to use against their own citizens daring to criticize the system.
The mainstream press and TV had a field day, as the 3 were described as a network cyber terror gang – akin to other terrorist organizations. Against the State; enemies of the State. The State used Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties (as yet unrevealed) to obtain the necessary evidence. Article 7 has been mentioned in various legal documents:
Under Article 7 requests for “mutual legal assistance”, for example, telecommunications surveillance or search of home or office can be made by fax or e-mail. This is only to require “formal confirmation” when “required by the requested state” – so the norm is likely not to require formal confirmation.
Following the indictments, the media fell silent, and nothing has been written since. What was presented to the public was a fait accomplit. For a time it was not only the media which was silent. The indictments of 120 charges on female blogger Lory Shem Tov of insulting public officials put a sense of fear into Facebook users. People were afraid. 300 complaints had been made.
Homeland Security were involved, FBI and even Interpol. It emerged that Shem Tov and Leybel had been under covert operations by special forces for a number of years in order to catch this ‘gang’. Given that the bloggers published under their own names, it seems strange it would take the authorities over 2 years to catch them. The bloggers were increasingly being sued by public officials through the civil courts for insult. They were visible and open in their views. It was argued that it was also part of the responsibility of the authorities not to let ‘serial public official insults’ to continue for years amassing thousands of exposes.
The system came down hard on the 3. They were declared enemies of the State of Israel, with the ridiculous label of having an ideology of evil. A trial was set to begin in September 2017 – still it has not begun. It is expected to last over 5 months, with hundreds of witnesses comprising judges, police, social workers and prosecutors – all who had been the ‘victims’ of blogs. Salacious and saucy they were – the headlines were shocking and dramatic. Satirical writing and parodies of judges. Photoshop pictures were published – parodying judges and social workers in particular.
But deep in each blog were also protocols and crimes of the officials. Many of their stories came to the mainstream. The activists had also campaigned hard to reach a mainstream Israeli channel who finally published a news documentary which presented state officials who whistle blew on the business of children created by unnecessary removal of children from their homes.
During the initial interrogations, more people were arrested including Barak Lazer – attorney for the Court Administration of Israel. A bigger scandal was brewing, but still mainstream stayed silent.
Over the course of this year, protests have been growing against inherent corruption in the State. Netanyahu himself is under pressure and scrutiny for various cases; his wife, other ministers, and in particular head of the Ministry of Welfare Haim Katz and his son – indicted this month for corruption – but still able to work and be free from prison. Insults abound on social media, with no consequences.
The defendants languished in jail, attending one, two or more hearings every week. The main focus was on the Arrest Judge, Avraham Heiman, a former police prosecutor, and the guardian between the State and the house arrest potential of the defendants. This was expected to take a few weeks, leaving time for preparation and defense in the upcoming trial.
Hearings were once or twice a week, initially in desperation for the evidence. But the prosecution held back, claiming there was too much – in fact up to 100,000 documents. To get this to defense, they claimed it was going to take time. It did. It was July before the full evidence reached the lawyers. But to date, not all the defendants have had the opportunity to read it.
Locked in cells, access was limited to a few CD discs at a time; and maybe one or two boxes of files to read. The hositility of Judge Heiman spilled over to those who came to support – parents and even a young son aged 9 of Leybel, who was clearly distressed to see his father under the circumstances.
Despite appeal on appeal, Heiman stood his ground, declaring the bloggers to be the most dangerous people on earth, worse than murderers. Insults took precedence over the truth inside the stories, incontrovertible truths of crimes, misdemeanors, corruption and child trafficking sanctioned by the State.
In December 2017 Leybel and Zer were released on house arrest. Shem Tov is still in prison. In recent news, prison sentences have been low as 8 or 9 months for murder. She has failed all assessments to date for her release on house arrest, with over a dozen ‘supervisors’ rejected, still decreed as dangerous to the public. The reality is the public officials are the ones who are afraid.
No one can doubt that insulting judges is frowned upon in all but half a dozen countries worldwide, but the penalties range from hefty fines to a small jail term. This detention had become illegal, and no quantity of Supreme Court appeals could overturn it. The trial is now estimated to start in January 2018. The decision is house arrest until end of proceedings, yet the assessments made indicated home detention would be for a year at least. So many anomalies.
The exposure of judicial corruption is unfolding in the handling of this affair. On 26th October, Judge Heiman gave his final verdict on the discussion of house arrest, which had become more important than the trial itself. The Judge saw bail as a victory for the detainees and would not surrender at any cost, or within any laws. They will stay in prison he declared. He wrote his decision on 19th October, 3 days BEFORE the defense had their major final hearing. He also chose to read the decision which he filled with sexual references, in front of a 9 year old boy, the son of one of the defendants. Without warning. Despite complaints to the judge’s ombudsman, he was not reprimanded for such behavior.
Is there something to hide? It is highly possible. Shem Tov’s websites were all hosted by WordPress in the USA. Despite requests from the Court Administration of Israel, they were not able to acquire the IP addresses. So they brought in assistance from Homeland Security, targeting websites. Again, no success.
Meanwhile Shem Tov’s blog sites were closed, and in desperation she transferred them all to a hosting platform in Europe, which had almost impenetrable privacy breaches.
Claiming in a TV interview in 2014 that she had hundreds of sites, and would make it her life’s work to expose Child Welfare practices, (having lost custody of her own children), she made no secret of her work.
The ongoing detention brings more questions than answers. What Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty did Israel use to extract the IP addresses just prior to the wave of arrests? The prosecution refuse to hand over evidence which could be favourable to the defense. Under American law, the Brady Disclosure enforces that all evidence MUST go to the defense in a criminal trial.
Did the State get cooperation from the FBI and Interpol using the Patriot Act? This would explain the terror label, and why they are described as a cyber terror gang with an ideology of evil.
At this stage it is impossible to know the grounds by which the State managed to get the information on blogging. WordPress resisted on the grounds that insulting public officials written on an American blog site was not in their jurisdiction until a few weeks before the arrest, and then after the indictments.
The corrupt judiciary is well known to citizens of Israel, with most judges rubber stamping decisions by welfare workers of prosecutors. Hence the 99.8% conviction rate. .
This, one of the most unreported scandals inside or outside Israel, is going to be one of the biggest trials in Israel’s history. Judge Heiman related blogs which had exposed the suicide of a lawyer, a blog in which a Judge was named in a Paramedic’s suicide; another suicide naming a social worker, and yet still concluded the writers of the blogs were the most evil people on earth.
Just a few miles away, a similar trial was held of Egyptian bloggers who criticized their judiciary, and Amnesty International have leapt in to speak on their behalf. Despite efforts to the UN, and other international organisations, the Israeli bloggers have been silenced and no voice of support for them on any international stage.
The damage has been done. Declared at the outset to be enemies of Israel, they have little chance of a fair trial with no public eyes on this unprecedented affair. The trial will be held behind closed doors, but whenever the press do publish a small article, it is with permission and one sided
Whatever the outcome in 2018, the detention in prison goes way beyond the treatment of even sexual offenders, rapists or other major crimes.
There are groups in Israel of supporters who see the defendants as Political Prisoners, held because their opinions are deemed to be too influential to the public. Nothing is black and white. Conspiracy theories abound. Discussions take place almost daily on social media.
The bloggers did indeed break the libel laws and whilst the judiciary are appalled by the exposures against them, it would seem more appropriate to hold the trial in the blare of full publicity and try and prove to the country the bloggers were wrong.
There is always a risk for bloggers to write more and more audacious articles, if unchecked for years. This appears to be the situation – yet could have been handled by the authorities in a more humane way than incarceration for what now appears to be until 2019.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said criticism is acceptable in a democracy, yet it is also selective. The corruption in the Israeli Judicial System is no secret, but singling out the crimes of Judges is frowned upon.
The punishment is exceeding the crime, and only well known countries who are undemocratic would consider holding activists who love their country for such a long time.
Marianne Azizi is a human rights journalist and head of a UN civil society speaking for the families and children inside Israel.
See below articles related to the blogging scandal, and other articles related to the defendants:
Moti Leybel – childrens rights activist was protected by Frontline Defenders on one arrest:
Lory Shem Tov
Asking the international community for help in her work to save children of Israel against CPS. Predicting her own arrest.
Attorney Zvi Zer
Saving a woman, committed to a mental institution for protesting alone
Make no mistake, freedom of expression and protests in Israel against police, judiciary or welfare is not allowed. If in doubt, this story will prove it.
This article (Israeli Journalist Still Imprisoned 13 Months Without Trial for Insulting Public Officials) was originally published on byline.com and is republished here by contribution with attribution to author Marianne Azizi and byline.com.
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