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12.2.2014

The Israel Prison Service refused to allow a 3-year-old toddler to visit his father in prison: the visit was allowed following HaMoked's intervention

According to the regulations of the Israel Prison Service (IPS), persons previously held in IPS custody cannot visit an inmate in prison unless by special permit. This sweeping regulation, which was in force for many years, applied even to individuals who had been imprisoned in the distant past, had been released from detention without charge, or only held in civil imprisonment. Following HaMoked's petition, in 2009, the state supplemented this sweeping regulation with various procedures and new criteria for prison visits, also by former prisoners, particularly short-term prisoners or non-security related prisoners. However, the implementation of new regulations is far from satisfactory, and prisoners' relatives – whose ability to fulfill their right to visit their loved-ones in prison should be ensured by the regulations – often encounter obstacles and difficulties.

A Palestinian prisoner engaged in a long legal battle for his brother and his father to be allowed to visit him in prison, even though both had previously served short prison terms in Israel. Following HaMoked's petition on his behalf, the IPS decided to deny the prisoner visits by his infant son, probably as punishment for asserting his rights

The child, not yet three, was born to a mother from the West Bank, while the father, who's an Israeli resident, was already in prison. The Ministry of Interior registers children who have just one Israeli-resident parent only subject to proof that the child maintains a joint center-of-life with the Israeli parent inside Israel; with the father in prison, living in Israel apart from his son, the ministry keeps refusing to register the child in the population registry. Nonetheless, for two years, the child regularly visited his father in prison. Only after the prisoner petitioned the court against the ban on visits by his brother and his father, did the IPS decide to utilize the interior ministry's rigid regulations, and condition the toddler's visits on the provision of an official – nonexistent – documentation proving the child was registered as the prisoner's son.

On July 21, 2013 HaMoked motioned to file an amended petition to include a request to instruct the IPS to allow the son's visits to prison. HaMoked noted, inter alia, that when the prisoner tried asking relevant prison authorities why his son was no longer allowed to visit him, he was told that as he already filed court petitions against the IPS, he might also solve this issue in court. The prisoner later informed HaMoked that certain entities in prison had explicitly threatened him that should he not withdraw the petition, he would see his son no more. In a letter to the IPS, HaMoked demanded to immediately stop the harassment and threats made to the prisoner simply because he had decided to assert his rights by appealing to court.

In response to the petition, the IPS claimed it had acted reasonably, and maintained its refusal to allow visits by the father and the brother, stressing that it had discretion in the matter, since both relatives were former prisoners. As to the infant, the IPS stated that his visit would be allowed upon provision of an official document proving the child was the prisoner's son.

The Court for Administrative Affairs accepted the IPS's position, and dismissed the petition, ruling that the IPS decision was reasonable. As to the son's visits to the prisoner, which were only refused following the prisoner's petition, the court ruled that even if the IPS had previously allowed visits by the son, it was not obligated to allow them further, and held that the demand for proof that the child was officially registered as the prisoner's son was reasonable.

While HaMoked was preparing to pursue the matter to the Supreme Court, the IPS decided to allow the father – but not the brother – to visit to the prisoner. On October 24, 2013, HaMoked motioned for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. HaMoked argued that the court's decision was unreasonable, disproportionate, and infringed on the prisoner's right to family life. HaMoked explained that the Ministry of Interior was unwilling to register the child, and that this was a legal issue, which pertained to many prisoners who were entitled to see their children even if their children's registration was unsettled.

On January 26, 2014, the State Attorney's Office announced that the IPS had decided to allow the infant son to visit his father in prison, and retracted its demand for proof of the child's registration. It seems that only by taking court action – which the IPS saw as a reason to threaten the prisoner and violate his rights – were the prisoner's most basic rights ensured.
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