Opening of an Investigation Following Publications on Social Networks
Due to the great importance of freedom of expression, in 2019, a directive was issued by the State Prosecutor, stating that the police must obtain approval from the prosecution before initiating an investigation into offenses of expression (such as posting on social networks that incite violence, hatred, and terrorism). Against the background of the war, the Ministry of Justice revoked the directive this week, allowing the police to initiate investigations into offenses of expression without the prosecution's approval. The Ministry also instructed the police to locate the publishers, request their arrest until the completion of proceedings "in suitable cases," and prosecute them even for a single publication.
The release of the police from the protection provided by the directive for suspects of expression offenses has led to a police crackdown and the arrest of dozens of Arab citizens and residents following posts on social networks. Reports in the media indicate that in many cases, the publications that led to investigations and arrests do not constitute an offense. For example, a woman was investigated for posting a picture of a large fish eating a small fish, and a person was investigated for posting a picture of injured children in Gaza with the caption "The eye cries for the children of Gaza." Furthermore, the strict and selective law enforcement policy is evident.
Although social networks are replete with expressions of slander and threats directed at everyone, the vast majority of investigations and arrests are of Arab citizens and residents.
On 18.10.2023, we appealed to the State Prosecutor with a request to reverse the revocation of the directive, so that any investigation, arrest, and indictment of suspects of expression offenses will require the approval of the prosecution. In the appeal, Attorney Tal Hassin noted that especially during times of war, characterized by extreme emotions, extra care beyond freedom of expression is required. She pointed out that most of the publications on social networks, even if they are offensive and sometimes made by some of the public, do not constitute an offense.
"The sensitivity and reaction provoked by certain expressions, whether by Arabs or Jews, do not justify the intensification of law enforcement," the appeal states. "It is precisely because of the ongoing war and the whirlwind of emotions that accompany it that the prosecution's involvement and its gentle hand in easing police work on the tightrope of investigations and arrests are required. This is a period in which great caution is required. Emotional storms may also be characterized by extreme expressions, sometimes twice, and we must take great care not to turn citizens into criminals due to statements that reflect a passing mood."
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel's appeal, 18.10.2023. (Hebrew)