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Israel: Human rights defender Mr Nuri al-Okbi sentenced to seven months imprisonment
Human rights defender Mr Nuri al-Okbi has been sentenced to seven months imprisonment on charges of "running a business without a license" by Ramla Magistrate's Court in Israel.
Nuri al-Okbi, born in 1942 and father of 8 children, is head of the Association for Protection of the Rights of Bedouins in Israel and active for the rights of the Arab residents of Lod, many of whom were originally Negev Bedouins.
On 28 December 2010, Judge Zachariya Yemini of Ramla Magistrate's court sentenced Nuri Al-Okbi to seven months imprisonment on charges of “running a business without a license”. The business in question is a garage which Nuri al-Okbi has been running since 1964 in Lod. Over the years, the Municipality of Lod's policy has undergone various changes, with the garage being granted a permit some years, while being denied it in others.
It is reported that the Court originally appeared inclined to allow Nuri Al-Okbi perform community service in lieu of imprisonment. However, the judge allegedly decided at the last moment to impose a seven month prison sentence, rather than six months, which is the maximum term which can be commuted to community service under Israeli law.
It is reported that in his verdict, the judge, specifically referring to Nuri Al-Okbi's human rights work, noted that "treating the defendant leniently would constitute a negative message to the public, and especially to the Bedouins". In addition to the prison term, the court imposed a fine of forty thousand shekels, failure to pay which would lead to an additional 400 days being added to his prison sentence.
Nuri al-Okbi's lawyer reportedly asked the court to delay implementation so as to facilitate the lodgement of an appeal; the judge conditioned such a delay upon an immediate deposit of thirty thousand shekels at the court's treasury. However, Nuri al-Okbi was unable to raise this sum, and was thus immediately imprisoned. An appeal against the verdict has been lodged.
It is further reported that Nuri al-Okbi was hospitalised following his sentencing due to his heart condition. He was taken to Assaf Harofeh Hospital, where he reportedly remains under police supervision with his hands and feet handcuffed to the bed. It is alleged that the police also prevented al-Okbi's son, who came to the hospital, from talking to him.
Following the verdict, Nuri al-Okbi stated: "I have become the target of politically-motivated discrimination and intimidation, with the intention of gagging me, putting an end to my speaking out against the municipality's policies -- for example, the demolition of seven homes of Arab residents about a week ago. The Police, Fire Department, the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of the Environment all certified that my garage conformed to all regulations. Nevertheless, the municipality had deprived me of a business license, while granting one to people in my neighborhood whose businesses were started after my garage. I am sure that if I had been ready to toe the line dictated by the municipality, I would have had no problem in obtaining a license. Their real problem is not my garage, but my public activity."
Front Line believes that the sentencing of Nuri al-Okbi is directly related to his legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights. Further concern is expressed for the physical and psychological integrity of Nuri al-Okbi.