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Israeli Group Seeks Amnesty For Drug Prisoners


January 1998

The newly formed Citizens' Committee for Amnesty in Tel Aviv, Israel has mounted a campaign for amnesty for inmates sentenced for drug and debt-related offenses, a spokesperson said on December 17 (Helen Kale, "New Group Seeks Amnesty For Common Criminals," Jerusalem Post, December 18, 1997).

Former Member of the Knesset (MK) Charlie Biton said, "... it cannot be denied that the vast majority of prisoners in Israeli jails belong to the Sephardic population." Veteran Black Panther member Reuven Abergil said many Sephardim jailed for drug-related crimes grew up in circumstances of economic and social deprivation, as did many Israeli Arabs who account for 50% of the drug addicts in prison.

According to committee member Cohavi Shemesh, 77% of prisoners "are drug addicts who should be in rehabilitation programs and not behind bars, and 66% require treatment." Shemesh said the committee was formed because the amnesty proposed by Jubilee Committee Chairman Yitzhak Moda'i would apply mostly to white-collar criminals, rather than "the real unfortunate prisoners whose crime is based on social circumstance."

The campaign will try to focus awareness on the issue to obtain quick passage of a law to pardon minor offenders. A series of five advertisements will feature a poster that says: "Israel, will you not ask peace for your prisoners?" Backers of the campaign include former Knesset Speaker Shevah Weiss (Labor Party), Finance Committee Chairman Avraham Ravitz (Degel Hatorah), Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert, and MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud).

Citizens Committee for Amnesty - Cohavi Shemesh, 26 Hatzus St., Apt. #3, Gilo, Jerusalem 93743, ISRAEL, Tel and Fax: (011) (972) (2) 676-7429.