High Court hears appeal to reduce Zahar Ataf’s sentence

Rapist’s early release will damage public confidence in army, state claims.

By JOANNA PARASCZCUK
August 31, 2011 02:26
2 minute read.
A gavel strikes at the issuing of justice

311_gavel. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

“It’s not every day that the state petitions the High Court, but this case is special,” state attorney Hila Gorni told the High Court of Justice on Tuesday.

The state is appealing against the recent ruling by a military judicial panel to remove 18 months from Colonel Zahar Ataf’s six-year rape sentence, meaning that he would serve slightly more than four years in prison.

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Ataf was convicted in the military appeals court in the Kirya military headquarters in 2006 of raping and sexually assaulting a junior female officer. In addition to his six-year prison term, Ataf was ordered to pay NIS 35,000 in compensation and was reduced to the rank of private.

Following the military appeals court’s ruling to reduce Ataf’s sentence, the State Attorney’s Office filed a petition last week to the High Court arguing that the decision was unreasonable and could lead to a public crisis of confidence in the army.

“This is a particularly nasty case of an officer of the rank of colonel who used his rank and status to hurt a female soldier under his command. It’s a severe blow to soldiers’ trust in their commanders and in the army as a whole, and in the trust of parents who send their children to serve in the army,” Gorni told the panel of justices Hanan Melzar, Eliezer Rivlin and Elyakim Rubenstein.

The state prosecution also alleged that the military judicial panel’s decision to mitigate Ataf’s sentence contains many flaws, including regarding his chances of rehabilitation.

“[Ataf] has never said he has done wrong or committed a crime,” said Gorni.

However, the panel of justices questioned why Ataf was not given rehabilitative treatment in prison.

Attorney Anat Klein of the Association of Rape Crisis Centers told the court that the decision to cut Ataf’s sentence also affects the complainant’s rehabilitation.

“She will be the first to be hurt,” Klein said.

The complainant, who cannot be named, suffers from nightmares and other difficulties, Klein further noted.

Klein also told the panel of justices that the decision would have an adverse affect on other sex crime victims.

Zahar’s defense attorney, Avigdor Feldman, said that Ataf also deserved rehabilitation as well as punishment.

“The trust of an enlightened public understands that a significant weight should be given to rehabilitation and that punishment without rehabilitation is brutal, and is only coercion,” said Feldman.

According to Army Radio, after the hearing, Zahar’s brother angrily accused the state prosecution of targeting Zahar because he is Druse.

"If my brother was called Abramovich, this would never have happened to him,” Zahar’s brother said. “The prosecution is [a group of] liars, every one of them.”

Hours after the appeal hearing, the High Court issued an injunction ordering Ataf to submit an affidavit within 15 days setting out his position in regards to participating in a prison service rehabilitation program.

The military advocate general was also ordered to provide details of the rehabilitation program open to Ataf.

The justices ruled that the panel of judges will conclude the appeal within a month’s time.

They further ruled that Ataf will remain in prison until a final decision on the petition has been made.


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