A Jerusalem court ordered the release of three members of the Black Flags anti-corruption and pro-democracy protest movement early Sunday, fiercely criticising police for having kept them in detention since Friday.
“I do not believe there is any need to place any conditions on the release of the defendants. The right to demonstrate is a fundamental right in a democratic regime,” said Judge Orna Sandler-Eitan.
Police had asked the protesters to sign conditions for their release, including a pledge to stay away from Jerusalem for 15 days.
Police attempts to keep demonstrators away from Jerusalem to prevent them from protesting at their chosen location was “disproportionate” and “inappropriate,” said the Jerusalem Magistrate Court judge
A former Air Force commander, Amir Haskel, was among the detained.
Police accuse Haskel of having organised a Friday protest outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, for which the group had no permits and during which demonstrators blocked a road.
Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the right-wing prime minister’s centrist former rival, clashed at their weekly cabinet meeting over the controversy.
“I am convinced that everyone who sits around this table believes that the freedom of demonstration is a sacred freedom. It must be preserved,” said Gantz.
Netanyahu replied that even during the coronavirus lockdown, that freedom had been preserved. “The claim that we are trying to curtail it is absurd. It is utterly out of place.”
Thousands of Israelis protested on Saturday evening against the detentions, including outside Netanyahu’s residence.
They waved black flags and demanded that Netanyahu step down while he fights charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Opposition leaders on Twitter charged that the detentions were “political” and an attempt by police to intimidate the protesters.
Netanyahu has allegedly accepted expensive gifts and attempted to improve press coverage by offering political favours to wealthy businessmen and media moguls. He has denied any wrongdoing and says a politically motivated prosecution seeks to oust him.
Under an April unity government coalition deal, Netanyahu is to serve as prime minister until November 2021, after which Gantz, who is also the alternate prime minister, is to take over.