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Israeli court temporarily halts deportation of Human Rights Watch official

Israel withdrew Omar Shakir's visa earlier this month after accusing him of supporting the BDS movement
HRW's Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir in Ramallah this month (AFP)

An Israeli court on Wednesday suspended Israel's revocation of a work permit issued to the local representative of Human Rights Watch, saying the decision was based on outdated information.

Omar Shakir's visa was withdrawn early this month after Israel accused him of supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and gave him two weeks to leave the country.

Both Shakir, a US citizen who serves as Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine director, and the New York-based organisation denied promoting boycotts against Israel.

He told Reuters that, prior to his work at Human Rights Watch, he had engaged in "divestment-related activism" that focused on companies that "violate human rights" in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, outposts many countries view as illegal.

Opting to challenge the revocation in a Jerusalem court, Shakir and Human Rights Watch said Israel was seeking to suppress criticism of its human rights record.

Israel last year initially denied Shakir a work permit, a decision criticised by the United States. It later granted him a one-year work visa.

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In its interim injunction, the court reasoned that the revocation was based on "old information" that predated the granting of the permit. It noted the visa had been extended until the end of last month even after a review process.

"Under these circumstances, it seems the status quo must be preserved, by an interim injunction," said a court document. The court scheduled a hearing for 2 July to continue deliberations in the case.

On Tuesday, the European Union called on Israeli authorities to reinstate Shakir's permit, saying that "otherwise Israel would join a very short list of countries which have barred entry to, or expelled, Human Rights Watch staff".

Israel is basing its decision to deport Shakir on a law that allows immigration authorities to deny entry to supporters of the BDS movement, a group Israeli authorities say advocates the country's demise.

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