Israeli father arrested and imprisoned after judge makes false claim against him

Ariel Formanovski
Marianne Azizi writes:

Israel is relentlessly persecuting human rights activists. The latest case is that of a father thrown into prison after a judge falsely accused him of terrorising her outside her home. No investigations were made, no alibis checked, and video evidence relating to the event was ignored.

This year has seen human rights deteriorate rapidly in Israel. Those who speak up against corruption have been especially targeted. Waves of arrests have taken place, particularly of leading activists.

People engaged in the fight against judicial corruption, law enforcement and the welfare practices in family matters have been among those bearing the brunt of the persecution. At least 10 activists have been rounded up, three of whom remain in prison after 50 days on charges of offending public officials.

One of those imprisoned but later released is Ariel Formanovski, the father of a three-year-old, who since July 2016 has been fighting the system to find his son and enforce his joint custody. His situation is rapidly deteriorating. In his efforts to get justice through the legal system, he has been tasered, imprisoned on a false charge of “trespassing in a public street”, recently taken down by a swat team armed with M16 guns for sharing a Facebook post, further imprisoned for eight days where he was held in solitary confinement, and this week came the icing on the cake.

On 10 April, he witnessed and videoed a group of vandals in his neighbourhood, which resulted in him being injured after he intervened. He was treated in hospital for severe bruising and a broken wrist.

I felt as if I was in a scenario of torture. I was in pain whilst being questioned. The investigator, Eyal Weingarten, was shouting and screaming the whole time… (Ariel Formanovski)

The following day he went to a police station, with the evidence, to report the incident. He was then arrested. In Israel, it is common to shackle a suspect with leg chains and handcuffs, but Ariel was in pain from his broken wrist.

He was taken from Petach Tikvah police station and driven to Taybeh, an Arab town near Netanya. All the way he asked why he had been arrested and was told: “You know why.” On arrival, he had to sit and wait. He was refused medical treatment for his injuries, even though he was in enormous pain.

When Ariel’s interrogation started, he was told that a judge had complained that  he had terrorised her outside her home during a protest which took place in January. The judge, Elia Nuss, was in fact the same judge in his ongoing fight for justice. Ariel had not been at the protest in January – a video of which is below –  and had a full alibi for that night.

“I felt as if I was in a scenario of torture. I was in pain whilst being questioned. The investigator, Eyal Weingarten, was shouting and screaming the whole time,” Ariel says.

Huge German Shepherd dogs were held close to him, snarling and barking. He was asked if he was afraid of them. After a few hours, the police brought him sandwiches. The prisoners on the other side of the partition urged him not to eat the sandwich but he did. Within half an hour, he said he was unable to order his thoughts. There were no physical effects but he felt rage and an inability to control his thinking.

One hour later, he was given a salad and, after eating it, he began to experience even more paralysing effects on his thoughts. During this time he was told by the police he had been at the protest because someone on a video “resembled” him.

Ariel was held overnight for a court appearance the next day. The dogs were brought to the court with him and held on leashes very close to him. He told the court that he wanted to stay in prison, and wouldn’t agree to any bail conditions.

The judge laid out terms of release: a restraining order preventing him from approaching judge Elia Nuss or entering a town called Tzur Yigal, which Ariel didn’t know.

(A copy of the original document in Hebrew can be viewed here.)

This was not a case of mistaken identity but part of an ongoing targeted persecution of Ariel. He is not alone. Anyone who challenges the system in Israel can face similar harassment.

The police claimed they could not locate Ariel and had been searching for him. Yet in February, following his eight-day interrogation, release, house arrest and internet ban, he was informed that his phone had been tapped for three years, and all of his computers searched. He was hardly invisible!

Over the past nine months, Ariel has had five phones confiscated and three computers seized. The police claim that his name was too common to find. There are only two Formanovski’s in the telephone directory: his and his elderly parents.

False claims are a scourge in Israel’s family courts, with tens of thousands a year being levelled on men, with no consequence for those making the false claims, especially public officials. It is clear that Ariel’s judge is now in an untenable position because she lacks neutrality. Yet it is also impossible to request that she recuses herself from judging Ariel’s case.

The two bloggers and human rights lawyer currently imprisoned face 91 charges of insulting officials, and sources say the state will be asking for five to 10 years incarceration following an undercover operation, which was published exclusively on Redress Information & Analysis.

The false claim levelled against them is made from the highest level and is unprecedented and displays breath-taking arrogance. Owing to several previous false arrests and the authorities’ refusal to accept evidence that would prove his innocence, Ariel’s search for his son has now been superseded by his personal quest to prove his innocence, which he has been prevented from doing due to the expense of court proceedings. His current case would have cost over half a million Israeli shekels ($137,000).

Some predict that at some point the authorities are bound to make a huge mistake. Maybe this is the moment – when a judge decides without evidence or investigation to order the arrest of an innocent man.

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