Middle East Ticker

The Middle East Ticker

By Yishai Schwartz, Jennifer R. Williams
Monday, April 6, 2015, 2:33 PM

Twitter and YouTube have been blocked in Turkey. The move comes after the sites failed to comply with an order issued last week by the Istanbul First Criminal Courts of Peace to take down footage of an Istanbul prosecutor being held at gunpoint. The footage had been circulating on social media while a hostage crisis was still in progress. The prosecutor later died after Turkish security forces stormed the building in which he was being held by radical leftist terrorists. Turkey temporarily blocked Twitter and YouTube in March 2014 after audio recordings began circulating on those sites that allegedly implicated members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle in a corruption scandal.

In other Twitter-related legal news from the Middle East, Kuwait’s Supreme Court has upheld the two-year prison sentence of Ayyad al-Harbi, a journalist and activist who was accused of insulting the emir of Kuwait on Twitter. Al-Harbi has been a vocal critic of the Kuwaiti government for some time, writing numerous opinion pieces lambasting the government for its corruption, oppression of Shi`a, and policies on women’s rights and freedom of speech. Al-Harbi is only one of many writers and activists who have been imprisoned recently for speaking out against the Kuwaiti regime.

Egypt’s interior ministry issued a statement on Sunday calling on citizens to report human rights abuses by police forces in the country and provided email addresses and phone numbers for citizens to report the violations. The statement comes amid increasingly alarming reports by various human rights groups of cases of torture and other severe human rights abuses in Egyptian prisons. However, many analysts were quick to spurn the interior ministry’s announcement, with some joking on social media that this was merely a ploy by the Sisi regime to help better identify the troublemakers among the population.

Just the day before, Egyptian police arrested the head of an Egyptian human rights organization in a raid on the organization’s Internet radio station. Ahram Online reports, “Ahmed Samih, director of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, says police told him Saturday he is under investigation for broadcasting without a license on the web radio platform Horytna. ‘One of the main questions was around our political affiliation,’ he said in a phone call, adding that the radio station is not affiliated with a political party and is focused on human rights.”

The International Criminal Court welcomes Palestine: In accordance with the Rome Statute, close to three months after the Palestinian President successfully submitted instruments of accession to the Rome Statute, Palestine is now a formal member of the International Criminal Court. Once considered the “nuclear option,” the Palestinians’ pivot to the ICC is now a reality---and is widely seen as part of a larger strategy to internationalize the conflict and force Israeli concessions. (A preliminary inquiry into events of this past summer’s Gaza war is already underway.) However, membership in the ICC could also have significant downsides for the Palestinians---opening up individuals and groups to prosecutions for war crimes and triggering legislative cut-offs in American economic assistance.

Palestinian lawmaker committed to six months of administrative detention: Khalida Jarrar, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was arrested after violating a military travel restriction and confined under Israeli administrative detention authorities. Jarrar is a senior official in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a militant group responsible for multiple terror attacks including (according to the PFLP’s claim of responsibility) last November’s synagogue attack, and she had been banned from traveling outside of Jericho. Her detention order was signed by General Roni Numa, Chief of the IDF’s Central Command. Palestinians have long protested Israeli military detentions that they claim are arbitrary and unlawful.

In terrorism case, Israeli Supreme Court expands requirements for conviction, rules statements of defendant legally insufficient: Israeli Supreme Court jurisprudence has long held that an out-of-court confession alone is inadequate to sustain a conviction. Some “additional evidence” is legally required. But in a precedent-setting shooting and terrorism case, a three-judge panel of the Court ruled that this requirement of “additional evidence” could not be satisfied by testimony about other statements made by the defendant (for example, a confession to a third party about ownership of a certain kind of gun) beyond an out-of-court confession. In the words of Justice Neal Hendel, “the legal insufficiency of a confession and requirement for ‘additional evidence’ demands that the Court supplement the subjective experience of the defendant with proof of the objective reality.”

Israeli Supreme Court rules against proposed security barrier route, orders revision: The Defense Ministry’s proposed route would have cut between a Christian monastery and its affiliated convent and school, and between some private Palestinian farmers and their land. The Defense Ministry had argued that a gate guarded with soldiers would have allowed sufficient access, but the High Court ruled that the proposed plans didn’t properly balance security and local concerns.

As Israeli coalition talks begin, curtailing power of Supreme Court under discussion: After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dramatic come-from-behind victory, the forthcoming government is widely expected to be primarily composed of a coalition right-wing and religious parties. Multiple leading members of these parties have placed reform of Israel’s activist Supreme Court high on their list of legislative priorities, and there is growing fear in Israel’s legal community that the incoming government may act on them. Among the potential reforms are proposals to alter the judicial selection process (currently dominated by the Israeli Bar Association and active Supreme Court members), to allow a parliamentary override of judicial review, and to make legislative changes to the Supreme Court’s doctrine of universal standing.

In an apparent attempt to calm international anger, Israel approves 2,200 units in Arab East Jerusalem and freezes similar plans for thousands of Jewish units: In the final days of the recent Israeli election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaigning in East Jerusalem and insistence that the security situation doesn’t allow for the imminent creation of a Palestinian state infuriated American and international diplomats. Since then, his government has tried to adopt a more conciliatory tone: The Ministry of Construction cancelled two planning meetings where plans for 1,500 apartment units in the Jewish East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa were set for discussion, and an Interior Ministry committee approved a plan for 2,200 units for Arab residents elsewhere in East Jerusalem. Both moves drew howls of protests from Netanyahu’s right flank, and even a court petition seeking an injunction (which was rejected by a Jerusalem District Court).