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Activists: Israel wants 2-year term for wall protester

Sept. 16, 2010 4:11 P.M. (Updated: Sept. 18, 2010 1:13 P.M.)
RAMALLAH (Ma'an) -- The sentencing phase in the trial of Abdallah Abu Rahme, the coordinator of the Bil'in Popular Committee Against the Wall and Settlements, began Wednesday at Israel's Ofer Military Court.

Abu Rahme was convicted of organizing illegal marches and of incitement in August, but he was cleared on initial charges of stone-throwing and "arms-possession," apparently collecting used tear-gas canisters and displaying them.

The prosecution demanded Abu Rahme be sent to prison for a period exceeding two years, saying that as an organizer, a harsh sentence is required to serve as a deterrence for himself and to others, the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee reported.

Another argument made by the prosecution in their demand of a harsh sentence were the repercussions and expenses caused to the army by the demonstrations against the barrier which cuts half of Bil'in from its farmland.

Wednesday's hearing, which lasted over three hours, saw a courtroom packed with diplomats, representatives of international and Israeli human rights organizations, as well as friends and family members, the committee said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says "the possible imprisonment of Mr Abu Rahma is intended to prevent him and other Palestinians from exercising their legitimate right to protest against the existence of the separation barriers in a non violent manner."

Rights groups say the conviction followed a show trial and was based on allegations that did not specify any particular incidents of wrongdoing and on statements by children who retracted them in court, alleging they were coerced, and who did not understand Hebrew, the language in which Israeli military interrogators prepared the statements they signed.

"Israel's conviction of Abu Rahme for protesting the unlawful confiscation of his village's land is the unjust result of an unfair trial," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "The Israeli authorities are effectively banning peaceful expression of political speech by convicting supporters of nonviolent resistance."

Israeli authorities describe the weekly protests as anything but peaceful, usually characterizing them as violent and illegal riots during which demonstrators throw rocks at Israeli forces stationed near the barrier.
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