Trial of Arab Member of Israeli Knesset Azmi Bishara Begins

Published February 27th, 2002 - 02:00 GMT

The trial of Israeli Arab MK Azmi Bishara on charges of supporting a “terrorist organization”, is to begin Wednesday.  


If convicted, the offense carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail.  


Prior to the opening of the trial, Bishara's attorney said Wednesday that the proceedings would be a "political trial" and that Bishara's defense would be built accordingly.  


According to Haaretz, the charges stem from speeches Bishara delivered at two political events. One of them was in the Israeli city of Umm al-Fahm to commemorate the 33rd anniversary of the 1967 War. The other was held in the city of Kardaha in Syria, on the one-year anniversary of the demise of former Syrian President Hafez al Assad.  


According to the prosecution, on both occasions Bishara sympathized with the Lebanon-based Hizbullah group, and hailed it for its actions against Israel, which ultimately led to Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon. The prosecution claims that Bishara also called on the Palestinians to use the same strategies in thier struggle against Israel.  


Dozens of Bishara's supporters are planned to attend the trial. Human rights activists and parliament members from European states are also expected to arrive.  


Bishara, who met with attorneys in Nazareth on Tuesday, said, "This is an attempt by the political and security institution to change the status-quo of the Israeli-Arabs." According to Bishara, even if he is acquitted in the trial, it will only be "the beginning of the campaign."  


Bishara's attorney, Bishara Riyad al-Anis, said that this was a trial of millions of Israeli-Arabs and "does not represent only Azmi Bishara.”  


Meanwhile, a Lebanese committee asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Tuesday to grant diplomatic immunity to Bishara.  


“We are looking forward to seeing swift initiative on your behalf to preserve the rights and safety and role of Azmi Beshara by granting him United Nations diplomatic immunity,” said a memo from the Lebanese Committee for the Defense of Azmi Bishara. The paper was addressed to Annan and submitted to Najib Friji, director of the UN Information Center in Lebanon.  


The committee also called on UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who is visiting the region this week, to consider Bishara’s case “the main issue in her trip.” ( 

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