Judicial Brutality in Israel: Lessons from Judge Keren Miller’s arrest hearing of News Reporter Lory Shem Tov
What lessons can be learned from the false arrest of journalist Lory Shem Tov by the Jerusalem P.D. last week? Lory Shem Tov is Israel’s prominent reporter dealing with corruption in the Judiciary and social services. Her news outlets are the number one source for the public as well as judges and social workers to obtain updates about hot stories in the center of debate, including all the gory details that nobody else dares to publish. Shem Tov was brought to a hearing for an arrest pending police investigation before Judge Keren Miller, a novice Judge appointed only two months earlier.
Last week, Jerusalem P.D. obtained arrest and search warrants against her, under the ruse that she is somehow involved in a kidnapping of a child by his father, who is a custodian. The police did not have an iota of evidence to connect Shem Tov with the whereabouts of the father in hiding, except that Shem Tov published videos showing that the father, Roey Cohen, was beaten by his violent wife, Batya Mizrahi, and that the child was also beaten by the raging mother. The arrest and warrant was signed by Judge Joya Skappa Shapiro based on a one line declaration of a police officer, Uri Statnikov, who did not reveal to the Judge that the suspect Shem Tov, is indeed a reporter possessing a press card from the official Israel Press Agency, and indeed she is a member of Board of the Israel Reporters Organization, duly elected by its 3,000 members.
Two days later a search and seizure warrant for Shem Tov’s computers and electronic equipment was signed by Judge Efrat Eichenstein, an American immigrant to Israel, who wrote: “Presented before me was a publication in Facebook exposing the face of a minor. The police summoned the suspect to an interrogation, but she cursed the police on the phone. This constitutes grounds for a search and seizure warrant anywhere she is found”.
Normally, a search warrant for the computers of a journalist requires an authorization of the Chief of Interrogations and Intelligence at the Police Headquarters (Israel Police Guideline 03.300.227). No such authorization was obtained, but that the violation of the Guideline did not result in any sanctions against the police.
Lesson number one here is that the police Guidelines are meaningless words designed to present the police as if it is bound by some formal restrictions on its vast powers, but indeed it is no more that “decorative” junk, and the police is actually operating as if Israel was the Wild West.
Next, Lory Shem Tov was apprehended under her apartment by officers Asi Moshe and Shlomi Gilad. Her keys forcefully removed from her purse, her apartment was raided and all electronic equipment was seized. She was taken in handcuffs from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, where they made her wait without food or access to toilets for six hours. She was interrogated for three hours until midnight and brought to a judge the next morning.
Shem Tov’s encounter with Judge Keren Miller was a fiasco. Judge Miller herself trained for 2 years at the State Prosecution, and worked 9 years as an assistant Judge in the Supreme Court for Edna Arbel. As such Keren Miller authored some of the most radical feminist manifestos (disguised as “judgments”) on behalf of the militantly radical feminist former Judge Edna Arbel. Miller was appointed as a judge only two month ago, in April 2016.
,. There, she saw how countless of appellants are coming to Court to seek justice, only to be told that the Supreme Court never intervenes in appeals on the “third round”, and that it never intervenes in the findings of fact. At the State Prosecution, she learned that the goal of the prosecution is to convict as many people as possible, regardless of guilt or innocence.
Lesson number two is that if the Judge has on her resume some tenure at the State Prosecution, she is more likely to be pro-prosecution, and the last thing on her mind will be the citizen’s basic and fundamental rights. After all, they can all be easily manipulated.
The hearing before Judge Keren Miller was a detention hearing. That means that the police wants to keep a suspect in custody for the duration of the investigation, without any commitment to actually filing an indictment. These detention hearings are normally conveyor belt style of justice. The police prosecutor presents ex parte a secret detention file to the Judge, the suspect lawyer is allowed to ask a few questions about the contents of the secret file, and the response is usually that the answers are in the secret detention file. This normally results in the police always getting what they ask for. All that the Judge needs is a likelihood of connection between the suspect and the circumstances, not the offense.
Lesson number three is that the detention hearings in Israel are a farce. No matter what the defense attorney says, the judge will almost automatically grant the application to arrest for up to 5 days at a time.
Indeed, in Shem Tov’s case the prosecution compiled a secret detention file composed of more than 50 documents (normally these are printouts of everything in google and Facebook that was written about the suspect or that he wrote himself, with contrived and deliberately false police memos about how the policeman interprets these “findings”.
Shem Tov was represented by Israel‘s top defense attorney, Tali Gottlieb, who volunteered herself to cry out the rights of a journalist to protect her confidential sources. Gottlieb did her best to explain that Shem Tov should have never been arrested in order to coerce her to surrender the whereabouts of the abducting father, and that if the police really wanted to catch the father, all they needed is to wiretap his family members, or approach his lawyer, Edna Ashkenazi and make him an offer to surrender. Gottlieb talked highly about the slippery slope of arrested reporters to reveal sources, but to no avail. Judge Keren Miller, who was impatient, and did not like any of Gottlieb's question, simply said abruptly that in line 200 of the secret exhibit 41, there is something that can be interpreted as involvement in the abduction, rather than pure journalistic coverage, and she granted the police request to arrest Shem Tov for another 24 hours.
Lesson number four is that at an arrest pending investigation hearing, the suspect has no chance to fight the secret file, because the police can plant in there any memo that they wish, and twist the circumstances to frame the suspect, while neither her nor her lawyer know anything about it. These hearing are definitely a “sold game”.
What happened next is that Shem Tov was coerced by the police to call the father’s lawyer and offer him a surrender deal, which included placement of the child with the father’s relative. At that point, the social services intervened and insisted that the child must be placed with the violent mother, and the negotiations failed. Shem Tov was released after six hours, but her computers stayed with the police.
The next day Shem Tov was called to the police precinct to pick up some of her computers and cameras. They were visibly broken, so Shem Tov refused to sign that the items are returned “in good working order”. The police refused to released the items unless Shem Tov signs the false statement.
Shem Tov was forced to make an application to release the seized computers and cameras, which was assigned again to Judge Keren Miller. Judge miller gave the police 3 days to respond why they are not releasing the items. Police prosecutor Idan Chai Rachmani responded that the items were sent to the Yamar unit in Tel Aviv, so it is no longer their responsibility. A hearing was scheduled on Thursday June 9, 2016.
At the hearing to returned the seized property, Lory Shem Tov was represented by attorney Varda Shteinberg. Shteinberg argued that as a certified reporter, Shem Tov is entitled to a privilege covering all her press sources, and that the properties must be returned immediately. She also claimed that the police is not entitled to demand that the suspect release the police from all liability to the damages and broken items, as a pre-condition to returning the items. Judge Keren Miller was unfazed by all the defense arguments, and ordered the police to allow Shem Tov to inspect her property before signing a release. However, the Judge did not set a deadline, nor did she rule that it is unreasonable to demand a release of liability for the broken computers and cameras.
Judge Miller also declined to order the Police not to copy the contents of the computers and cameras, and not to search the contents. She merely stated that unless there is another secret ex parte order allowing the inspection of the contents of the computers and cameras, the police could not do so.
Lesson number five is that when the police wants something at the criminal court, they will almost always get it. However when the citizen is standing up for his or her rights, the Judge will issue vague and amorphous decisions, that can always be twisted and played with.
In the end, the next day, the police did capture the father by wiretapping his sister’s phone. The child was transferred to the violent mother’s custody. The mother was represented by Osnat Karplus of the ultra-feminist militant organization known as “Rackman Center”, which operates a clinic inside the Law faculty of Bar Ilan University.
When interviewed by Channel 10, Lory Shem Tov said she was outraged by the concept of a “secret file” in the Courts. “A judge who allows the police to present a secret file, and makes judicial findings based on it, is not really a judge. She is a puppet of the Judicial Junta”’ said Shem Tov.
As a lesson from this ordeal, and still with her equipment, Shem Tov wrote to the Head of the State’s Legal aid, the “Sanegoria”, Mr. Yair Sapir, and asked him to issue a circular to all attorneys representing indigent defendants in criminal trials, to boycott any hearing where a secret file is presented, and simply walk away from the representation. “Only a boycott of all defense lawyers of proceedings where secret files are used, will eradicate the plague”’ says Shem Tov. She intends to file an Administrative Petition against the Legal aid for not taking actions to stop the horrendous charade at the criminal courts.
Israel is becoming a dangerous place for reporters and journalists to operate. The level of censorship and monitoring of the Facebook for every expression of opinion, which can easily land a person in jail, is not so different than Russia’s Putin’s regime or Turkey’s Erdogan’s police. Whoever reads Israel’s laws as they are written might think that fundamental human rights in Israel exist. In practice and reality, they do not exist.
This article was made by contributions of over 5 lawyers assisting Lory Shemtov, witnesses and others involved and will be passed to Frontline Defenders and the UN Human Rights Defenders division who have already been notified of her human rights violations as a journalist.