Palestinian-Israeli journalist on bail after incommunicado arrest

Majd Kayyal, 23, a journalist from Haifa who also works as editor for civil rights center Adalah, is out on bail  after  days of solitary confinement and interrogation since his arrest on Saturday night. The gag order on the case was lifted hours earlier, after activists in Israel and abroad ignored the ban. 

Update: The Haifa District Court on Thursday morning released Majd Kayyal, a 23-year-old Palestinian citizen of Israel and a journalist from Haifa, who was arrested as he was traveling home from Beirut last Saturday night. Police prosecutors who originally applied for an extended remand earlier this week said  Kayyal was suspected of visiting an enemy state and establishing contact with foreign agents.  The foreign agents allegation was dropped as he was released on bail, but enemy state one remains. According to Adalah, Kayyal has been banned from using internet for 21 days, which Adalah is set to challenge in court.

The gag order imposed on the case was removed several hours earlier.

While it is illegal for Israeli citizens to visit “enemy states” such as Lebanon and Syria, many Israeli journalists do so on a regular basis, some by making use of their dual citizenship and some by simply crossing the border. None of them were formally arrested or charged in recent memory.

The journalist, who made no secret of his visit and posted reflections about it on Jadaliyya while still abroad, was not allowed access to legal counsel since his arrest until Wednesday night, hours before the gag order was to be lifted. The state alleged fears that the interrogation would be compromised should he and his lawyers be allowed to meet – a tactic applied frequently to Palestinians appearing before Israeli military courts in the occupied territories, occasionally to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and almost never to Jewish citizens. Even Kayyal’s solitary court appearance at the remand hearing took place only after his legal team was ordered to leave the room.

Kayyal told his lawyers that the questioning so far focused on his visit to Beirut and the meetings he held during the conference. He said he answered all the questions, and explained all of them were held in his capacity as a journalist, according to Adalah. He was checked on a lie detector and found to be speaking the truth, the rights group said.

According to his lawyers, Kayyal was  held in solitary confinement, without a bed, a window, daylight or fresh air, and with an electrical light on 24 hours a day, a tactic used to make detainees lose their sense of time. The questioning was aggressive, he said, and included many questions about his private life. The Adalah legal team said they nevertheless found him to be in good spirits.

On Wednesday, while still under a gag order, Adalah posted reflections on its Facebook page about the denial of right to counsel, stressing in particular the risk of torture. “Meeting a lawyer before and during questioning is a constitutional right, requisite for protecting the right of the detainee for due process,” the organization wrote.

“Such meetings are also necessary for monitoring the investigation and preventing the use of unlawful investigative means, including torture. It is a right according to both Israeli and international law. When the detainee is suspected of security-related offenses, this right become conditional… security-related interrogations are often accompanied by protracted periods of detention, and are not recorded through audiovisual means, as questionings on offenses carrying a punishment of 15 years or more normally are… it is a draconic practice usually applied to Palestinian detainees in order to break them psychologically,” Adalah said.

In the same hearing where Kayyal’s remand was extended on Sunday, a sweeping gag order was imposed by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on the entire affair – an increasingly standard practice by state agencies who do not have a case for applying military censorship laws and resort to lowest-instances courts to rubber-stamp injunctions. As in earlier cases, media outlets abroad took the lead on ignoring the ban, with Electronic Intifada even posting the classified transcript of the remand hearing, which prompted a question on the arrest at the State Department hearing on Monday. On this occasion, a growing number of Israeli independent publications also chose to defy the ban.

The trend began with Adalah’s own Facebook page, which posted the fact of Kayyal’s arrest immediately after it took place and before the imposition of the gag order the following morning, prompting breaking news coverage on the site Arab48. Arab48 continued its coverage even as the ban was imposed, and several Hebrew blogs picked up on the story – with the blog OR139 even titling its post “Gag order.” Al-Ittihad, the Haifa-based printed newspaper of the Communist Party, went even further, printing news about the arrest during the week. So far, no known steps have been taken against any of the publications, but many other media outlets held back – mainstream media in line with its habitual kowtowing of the security services line, and independent media for lack of financial resources to withstand a lengthy court case – even if they would be acquitted at the end.