Israeli ministers back ban on filming soldiers

Israeli soldiers near Nablus in the occupied West Bank, on June 8, 2018 (AFP Photo/Jaafar ASHTIYEH)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Israeli ministers on Sunday backed a draft law carrying a jail term of up to 10 years for those who film or photograph soldiers with harmful intent, the justice ministry said.

Critics say the law, which will now face a series of parliamentary debates, could be a threat to free speech.

The ministerial committee on legislation endorsed the bill against "people who film, photograph or record soldiers performing their duties in order to demoralise soldiers and Israeli civilians".

The draft law would give courts the power to imprison those found guilty for five years, although a 10-year sentence would apply to defendants convicted of trying to "harm the state's security".

The same prison terms would apply to people sharing such images or recordings on social media or through traditional media.

Explanatory notes of the bill say that local "anti-Israeli" NGOs, as well groups affiliated with the "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" (BDS) movement, spend days around "soldiers eagerly awaiting activity that could be documented in a biased way and used to defame them."

The BDS movement leads a global campaign against Israel, targeting the country's economy, art scene and sports.

"Most of these organisations are supported by foundations, organisations and governments with a clear anti-Israel agenda, which use this biased content to harm Israel and its security," the notes said.

An Israeli soldier was recently released from prison after serving nine months behind bars for shooting dead an injured Palestinian, an act which was caught on video by a human rights group and spread widely online.

The draft law was sponsored by the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party led by Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Following the ministerial approval, Lieberman said in a statement he would end attempts by "terror supporters" to "humiliate, degrade and harm" soldiers.

Ksenia Svetlova, an opposition lawmaker with the centre-left Zionist Union, slammed the bill as "dangerous and anti-democratic," warning it would "harm the media and civil society organisations".

"Whoever's conduct is good doesn't need to hide anything," she wrote on Twitter.

The Israel Democracy Institute, a liberal think-tank, said the bill's ambiguous wording could prevent anyone besides the army from documenting soldiers, and expose Israeli soldiers to legal proceedings in international forums.

A political source told AFP the wording of the bill was expected to change during the legislative process.

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