Civil rights group criticises unusually harsh sentence and says protester was specifically targeted

A left-wing Israeli activist has been jailed for three months by a court in Tel Aviv for participating in a Critical Mass bike ride in the city nearly three years ago demonstrating against the country’s blockade of Gaza.

The “unusually harsh” sentence handed down to Jonathan Pollak, a founding member of a protest group called Anarchists Against The Wall, is thought by civil rights campaigners to have been politically motivated, reports The Guardian.

Pollak, who has a high public profile in Israel due to his activism, was one of 30 cyclists who took part in the Critical Mass ride in Tel Aviv in January 2008. According to his lawyer, while Pollak was arrested, the others were permitted to carry on with the ride.

"I have no doubt that what we did was right and, if anything, not sufficient considering what is being done in our name," commented Pollak. "If I have to go to prison to resist the occupation, I will do it gladly."

The 28-year-old said that the jail term given to him reflected "part of the general deterioration in the right to dissent from the general Israeli discourse regarding the occupation".

Pollak’s lawyer, Gaby Lasky, who has spent eight years representing activists demonstrating against Israeli operations in Gaza and the West Bank, said that the sentence was unusually severe.

"It is not common that someone found guilty of illegal assembly will be sent to prison," she explained. "We are in the midst of a high wave of detentions of activists. The criminalisation of leftwing demonstrations is a policy these days".

The Guardian reported that an official from the court of first instance in Tel Aviv agreed that it was highly unusual for a custodial sentence to be given in a case dealing with illegal assembly case, but added that Pollak had three previous convictions, including one relating to "distraction of order and vandalism."

Pollak has previously been arrested on numerous occasions as a result of his activities and in 2005 needed 23 stitches after suffering a head injury which also caused two internal brain haemorrhages when he was struck by a tear gas canister fired by an Israeli soldier from an M-16 rifle during a protest on the West Bank.

Dan Yakir, chief legal advisor to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said: "Placing Pollak behind bars because of his participation in the critical mass bike ride is an extreme punishment and an unusually harsh measurement.

"The entire affair raises suspicion that Pollak was personally targeted because of his views in an attempt to silence him and prevent him from partaking in various acts of protest."

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.