Police chief: Lessons will be learned from arrest of anti-corruption protester
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Police chief: Lessons will be learned from arrest of anti-corruption protester

Motti Cohen says commanders must use discretion after 3 held after demonstration outside PM’s home; justice minister says right to protest is ‘fundamental cornerstone of democracy’

Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen speaks at the annual Justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen speaks at the annual Justice conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv on September 3, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Interim Israel Police commissioner Motti Cohen on Sunday addressed the controversial arrest of a former top general and two others for protesting outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence, saying that police will learn lessons from the incident.

“The role of the police is to allow freedom of expression and protest for every person, and maintain the public’s safety and security, regardless of the issue, the protesters or their positions,” Cohen said in a statement. “Police will learn lessons from this incident, as we have done in the past. At the same time, there is no substitute for commanders using their discretion.”

The three detainees were ordered to be unconditionally released from police custody early Sunday after they were arrested during a demonstration against Netanyahu and government corruption in the capital on Friday.

Police had sought restraining orders against former air force brig. gen. (res.) Amir Haskel and fellow protesters Gil Danieli and Saadi Ben Sheetrit to ban them from Jerusalem for at least 15 days.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Amir Haskel (2nd left) and two other protesters at Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Hearing onJune 27, 2020, after they were arrested during a protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Jerusalem residence. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But at a late-night hearing that stretched beyond midnight Saturday, Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court Judge Orna Sandler-Eitan said banning them from Jerusalem would amount to a muzzle on free speech and ordered their release.

A police representative admitted to the judge that Haskel, 66, had not been actively blocking roads, but said he had organized the protest and thus was responsible for other demonstrators doing so, according to Haaretz. The representative said police had handled the protesters with kid gloves.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn on Sunday praised the court’s decision to unconditionally free the three.

New Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn speaks during a ceremony at the Justice Ministry on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

“Freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate are fundamental cornerstones of democracy that are unlimited apart from in extreme cases,” he tweeted.

“I applaud the court’s decision to release the protesters [arrested] in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence without restrictive conditions.”

The demonstration was part of the ongoing “black flag” anti-corruption protests against Netanyahu, who is standing trial in a series of graft cases.

On Saturday night, thousands of people demonstrated at the same spot on Jerusalem’s Azza street, this time protesting both corruption and the arrests.

Israelis protest against PM Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, on June 27, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Video and photos from the protest showed demonstrators sitting in the middle of street outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. Some of them were picked up and removed by police, but it was unclear from the images whether they had been ordered to clear the road.

Haskel, who had a 32-year career in the air force, including as a pilot in the 1973 Yom Kippur War and as head of IAF personnel, was arrested shortly after speaking at the protest on Friday, according to eyewitnesses.

Opponents and supporters of Netanyahu have held a number of recent demonstrations outside his official residence, including dueling rallies in May on the day his corruption trial began.

Police remove a protester during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, on June 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

He has denied wrongdoing and claims the charges are part of an effort by political opponents, the media, law enforcement and prosecutors to remove him from office.

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