pr 08-06-04

19  May 2009

Adalah Petitions District Court against Israel Prison Service Decision Banning the Entry of Books into Prisons

On 18 May 2009, Adalah filed a petition to the Nazareth District Court against a decision by the Israel Prison Service (IPS) that totally bans bringing books into the prisons. Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker filed the petition, on behalf of political prisoner Walid Dakka, who was given a life sentence and has been incarcerated by Israel since 1986.

According to the IPS’s new policy, all prisoners, political and criminal alike, have been banned from receiving books from their families during visits. The policy therefore severely restricts the freedom of prisoners to choose the books that they read, as the IPS prevents prisoners classified as “security prisoners”, almost exclusively Palestinian political prisoners, from using prison libraries. Therefore, any books they have must be provided by their families during visits or by the Red Cross. The IPS also prevents political prisoners from enrolling on of the educational courses it offers inside prisons, which compounds the harm caused to them by the new policy.

According to an affidavit provided by Walid Dakka, included in the petition, books play a crucial role in the lives of prisoners in general, and Palestinian political prisoners in particular. Reading books is often the only contact prisoners have with the outside world, given the restrictions placed on family visits and telephone use by prisoners classified as security prisoners. In petitioner Dakka’s own words, “Banning the entry of books means total isolation. It’s like a death sentence. For me, reading is the air that I breathe. It is the only thing that makes me feel confident, hopeful, and capable of facing life in prison. I don’t want to be a caveman. Books are what connects me to the outside world, with modernity, with development, and with progress in the world.”

In the petition, Attorney Baker argued that the books that families bring to prisoners during visits are vital for their education. For example, petitioner Dakka is in the final stages of a master’s degree in the social sciences at the Open University. There are hundreds of other political prisoners who take correspondence courses at higher education institutions.

Adalah also contested the IPS’s claim that the ban on the entry of books is motivated by security concerns, given that the prison authorities conduct rigorous security checks on all books, both in order to determine their content and to prevent the smuggling of contraband into prisons.

Adalah emphasized that the IPS’s decision violates the constitutional rights of prisoners, including the rights to intellectual freedom, dignity and education, and, most importantly, the right to freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is among the most important constitutional rights, and specifies that a person is entitled to make his opinion heard and to hear the opinions of others, whether orally or in writing. Therefore, this right can only be restricted when a prisoner expressing his view is almost certain to threaten public order and safety, or order and discipline within the prison.

P.P. 439/09 (Nazareth District Court), Walid Dakka et al. v. The Israel Prison Service

The Petition (Hebrew)




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