Palestinian Prisoners Seek Reconsideration of Supreme Court Ruling Upholding Ban on Higher Education

Three security prisoners filed a motion to the Supreme Court today (January 8) requesting an additional en banc hearing on the Court’s recent ruling to uphold a sweeping ban on correspondence courses for prisoners designated as “security” prisoners.

Three Palestinian prisoners filed a motion to the Israeli Supreme Court today (8 January 2013) requesting an additional hearing by an expanded panel of justices concerning the Court’s recent ruling to uphold a sweeping ban on higher education correspondence courses for prisoners designated as “security” prisoners. The motion for a second hearing and a reconsideration of the decision was filed on behalf of the three prisoners by Attorney Abeer Baker from the Haifa University Clinic for Prisoners’ Rights and Reentry, Attorney Hassan Jabareen from Adalah, and Attorney Lila Margalit from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).

The Israel Prison Service (IPS) banned Palestinian security-classified prisoners from academic studies last June 2011 in an effort to pressure Hamas into releasing Gilad Shalit, but the ban continued even after Shalit’s release. In 2010, there were 270 prisoners taking correspondence courses at the Open University, of whom only 60 were criminal-classified prisoners. Criminal prisoners are still allowed to take such courses.

On 24 December 2012, the Supreme Court denied the petitions of the three prisoners requesting that they be allowed to continue their studies at the Open University while serving their sentences in prisons in Israel. In a short ruling, the Supreme Court held that education is not the right of a prisoner, and that the distinction between security prisoners and criminal prisoners is acceptable and does not constitute impermissible discrimination.

In the motion filed today, the petitioners argue that an additional hearing is needed because the Court’s ruling sharply contradicts the longstanding principle in Israeli case law that prohibits arbitrary discrimination between prisoners, and that it could be interpreted to allow the worsening of a prisoner’s conditions simply because of his designation as a “security prisoner”, even in the absence of a relevant security justification.

The petitioners stressed that leaving the ruling intact could significantly erode basic legal principles relating to prisoners, according to which an individual’s human rights are not abandoned at the prison gates. Prior Israeli Supreme Court decisions have held that the violation of a prisoner’s rights is only allowed if it is necessary to maintain public order or prison security.

Citation: Additional Hearing in HCJ 204/13, Said Salah et al v. Israel Prison Service 

Read about the previous case: Reversing Prior Precedent, Israeli Supreme Court Rejects Palestinian Prisoner Rawi Sultany's Appeal to Continue his Higher Education Studies in Prison, 26 December 2012