Steve Weizman, AFP
Last updated: 29 May, 2012

Israel frees Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi with sentence suspended

Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi, convicted of dispatching stone-throwers and protesting illegally, was freed by an Israeli court on Tuesday after receiving a suspended sentence.

He was sentenced to 30 months jail for sending youths to throw stones, but has already served 13 months, and the remaining 17 months was suspended for five years.

Judge Eti Ador said the sentence would be activated if Tamimi took part in any “public disorder” such as encouraging people to throw stones or engaging in any activity against the security forces.

On the charge of protesting illegally, he was handed a two-month suspended sentence which will be activated if he participates in any unlawful demonstration, she said.

“It’s a higher suspended sentence than we had hoped for, higher than is justified,” said veteran Israeli activist Jonathan Pollak who has closely followed Tamimi’s trial.

Tamimi was convicted on May 20 at Ofer military court near Ramallah, but he was also cleared of two more serious charges, including incitement and perverting the course of justice, in a move which Pollak at the time described as “a miracle” in a court with a conviction rate of 99.74 percent.

Speaking to AFP shortly after the hearing, Tamimi said the sentence would not stop him from being politically active but admitted that the suspended prison term would make his life difficult.

“I feel that my whole life is under the surveillance of the judge,” he said.

“The suspended sentence is not going to stop me from being active but it is going to put me under a lot of pressure.”

Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Tamimi’s conviction, “violates his right to freedom of assembly, while (his conviction) on a second charge of urging children to throw stones on the basis of a child’s coercively-obtained statement raises serious concerns about the fairness of his trial.”

Tamimi was arrested on March 24, 2011 and accused of organising illegal gatherings and incitement in connection with a series of weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh village in protest at Jewish settlers taking over their land.

Last month, after spending exactly 13 months in jail, he was released on bail after his elderly mother suffered a stroke, although he was kept under house arrest in Ramallah the entire time.

“I’m going home now,” he said after Tuesday’s decision. “I haven’t been to Nabi Saleh for a long time.”

Tamimi’s arrest sparked international condemnation, with the European Union recognising him as a human rights defender and Amnesty International declaring him a prisoner of conscience.

Diplomats from France, Portugal and the Czech Republic were in court to observe proceedings on Tuesday.

The weekly demonstrations in Nabi Saleh began at the end of 2009, following a years-long legal battle with residents of Halamish settlement who in 2001 seized around 240 acres (100 hectares) of the villagers’ land.

One Friday, the villagers accompanied the farmers to their land to help cultivate it but were prevented from getting there by settlers and the army.

It soon became a Friday tradition, with the villagers routinely trying to reach the land and finding themselves blocked by the army, which says such demonstrations are illegal.

Almost all demonstrations in the Palestinian territories are defined as “illegal” under Israeli military law, which states that any gathering of 10 or more people requires a permit.

According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) the ban on demonstrations and the forced dispersal of peaceful protests represent “a clear violation of the rules of international law that are incumbent on the occupying power.”