Challenging Confiscation of Salt from Hunger-Striking Prisoners.

HCJ 7837/04, Lila Bourgal, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service, et. al.

Petition filed to the Supreme Court in 8/04 on behalf of family members of hunger-striking prisoners, several Israeli and Palestinian NGOs, and in Adalah's own name, against the Israel Prison Service (IPS) and the Minister of Internal Security, demanding that the IPS provide salt on a daily basis to hunger-striking prisoners incarcerated in prisons around the country, an injunction prohibiting the IPS from confiscating salt from prisoners' cells, and an urgent hearing on the petition.

Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners took part in a hunger strike which began on 15/8/04, in protest against the deplorable conditions of confinement in Israeli prisons and detention centers. The prisoners stated that the strike would involve refusing food, not fluids and salt. However, from the beginning of the strike, the IPS confiscated various materials from their cells, including salt. The IPS claimed that the confiscation of salt was a disciplinary measure taken against the hunger strike, classified as a disciplinary offence by IPS Order – 1971. Adalah contacted the IPS demanding the return, among other things, of salt to prisoners, since not ingesting salt daily is dangerous for the health. The IPS responded that, according to IPS medical regulations, not adding salt to drinking water during the first two weeks of a hunger strike does not damage the strikers' health. Adalah contacted the IPS and Attorney General (AG) several times, requesting copies of these medical regulations.

Adalah argued in the petition that confiscating salt from prisoners and refusing to provide striking prisoners with salt on a daily basis is illegal, as it breaches the constitutional rights of hunger-striking prisoners to bodily integrity and dignity, as well as their rights to health and personal autonomy, which are guaranteed whenever they are behind prison bars, including when on hunger strike. Two expert medical opinions included in the petition were provided by physicians specializing in internal medicine, who state that not ingesting salt in daily drinking water will result in the infliction of damage to a hunger striker's body and health. The petition stressed that the IPS, which is entrusted with protecting the prisoners, is thereby obligated to care for their health and well-being. Adalah further added that the IPS lacks the authority to order the confiscation of salt, since the existence of internal procedures do not grant the IPS authority to infringe the basic rights of hunger-striking prisoners, and that the confiscation is tantamount to illegal and overly-broad punishment. The Court provisionally denied the petitioners’ request for an injunction.

v In 8/04, the AG’s office argued in response to the petition that IPS medical regulations determine that two weeks after the beginning of a hunger strike, the hunger-strikers are to be provided with water enriched with essential vitamins and minerals. The AG claimed that this was already being provided to the prisoners several times a day, and that, in accordance with the regulations, prisoners who joined the strike at a later stage would be provided with the enriched water within a few days.

At a hearing in 8/04, the Court dismissed the petition. In 9/04, the Court issued a judgment upholding the IPS's decision claiming that, "Incarceration restricts the ability of prisoners to exercise their freedom of expression, and the limitations imposed upon prisoners' freedom of expression are stricter than the limitations imposed upon free individuals." Accordingly, the Court ruled that, "Even if we presume that the hunger strike is a legitimate means of expressing one's opinion and exercising the right of freedom of expression, hunger-striking is not considered a right accorded to a person during incarceration." In fact, the Court added that, "Hunger-striking impedes prison management." According to the Court, the hunger strike is a breach of the IPS’s internal regulations, and therefore the IPS is entitled to remove any amenities given to hunger-striking prisoners. However, the Court noted that this step must be proportionate, and not pose a danger to the prisoners' health or lives. The Court found that the steps taken by the IPS did not violate the prisoners' basic rights. The Court fully accepted the IPS’s representations that it had no duty to provide salt to the prisoners. The Court added that, as the IPS is responsible for feeding prisoners, the storing of food in cells is not a basic right of prisoners, and furthermore the IPS has the authority to sequester amenities from hunger-striking prisoners.

The Court’s findings contradicted the expert opinions by specialists in internal medicine brought by Adalah. Moreover, the Court failed to address one of the petitioners’ main arguments, namely the issue of illegal and overly-broad punishment. Further, as Adalah argued during the hearing, even if the hunger strike is considered as a violation of the IPS's Regulations, unlike other punishments, including fines and solitary confinement, the confiscation of salt is not recognized in the regulations as a legal punishment.

H.C. 7837/04, Lila Bourgal, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service, et. al. (petition dismissed).