Israeli military trial begins for prominent Palestinian activist

Prominent Palestinian activist Issa Amro went on trial in an Israeli military court Sunday on accusations of inciting violence, charges that rights groups call a bid to silence him.

The trial began at the Ofer military court in the West Bank, but was adjourned until October 22, after two witnesses testified.

Amro is the founder of Youth Against Settlements, a campaign group in the city of Hebron in the West Bank.

In June 2016, he was charged with 18 counts, some dating back to 2010, according to Amnesty International.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, the 37-year-old called the trial a “joke” and said he had no trust that Israel’s military justice system would treat him fairly.

His lawyer Gaby Lasky told reporters the “Israeli military cannot stop non-violent demonstrations with weapons, so they’re doing it through criminalization of… freedom of speech and freedom of demonstration.”

An Israeli military spokesman has said evidence would be presented that Amro had “taken part in riots, attacks on soldiers, calls to violence, and prevented security forces from doing their work.”

Two soldiers took the stand on Sunday and testified about a demonstration on February 26, 2016.

Amro and Fareed Al Atrash, another activist, are said to have “incited violence” in that demonstration.

“I think we proved it wasn’t an illegal demonstration and it was not a violent demonstration, and incitement is not carrying slogans” critical of Israel’s occupation, Lasky told reporters.

Amnesty International has said the charges against Amro do not “stand up to any scrutiny.”

“If he is convicted, we will consider Issa Amro a prisoner of conscience,” Amnesty’s Magdalena Mughrabi has said.

Amro’s case has made waves in the US, where four Democratic lawmakers circulated a letter calling for the United States to urge Israel to reconsider charges against him.

The letter was circulated by Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, who serves as deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, as well as Reps. Marc Pocan of Wisconsin, Betty McCollum, from Minnesota, and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. It urged Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to pressure Israel.

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