Former president Moshe Katsav was released from Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle on Wednesday after serving five years and 15 days of his seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offenses.
The news that he would be go free emerged suddenly mid-afternoon after the state prosecution, confounding some predictions, announced that it would not appeal the Parole Board’s decision on Sunday granting Katsav’s request for an early release.
The board had granted the prosecution’s request for a one-week delay in implementing Katsav’s release, to allow the state to weigh its options regarding an appeal to the Lod District Court.
Katsav was convicted of two counts of rape, one count of committing an indecent act using force, one count of committing an indecent act, two counts of sexual harassment, one count of harassing a witness and one count of obstructing justice. He entered Ma’asiyahu Prison in December 2011.
Once his release was announced, Katsav held a series of final meetings with prison officials and then made his way outside.
It took about two intense minutes for Katsav to pass the prison gate and walk through a mob of media representatives and into his car for his return home to Kiryat Malachi.
The 71-year-old appeared both happy and somewhat in shock, whether because of his release after so many losses in court, or because of the mass-media attention and flashbulbs, which he did not face in prison.
He was greeted by his wife, Gila, and other supporters, and later by a larger group of family members and supporters at his home.
In Kiryat Malachi, police prepared for the arrival of the former president. However, according to a spokesman for the Lachish region police, no officers were brought from outside the city to secure the homecoming.
“Listen, he’s not a prime minister coming to visit. Everything is pretty normal,” the spokesman said, adding that police were expecting large groups of supporters of Katsav and did not foresee any protests.
Prohibited from speaking to the media as a condition of his release, Katsav did not utter a word, but his wife and lawyers expressed tremendous happiness at his being freed, and his lawyers said he could not contain himself when he was told that the prosecution would not appeal the board’s decision and that he would be released immediately.
In contrast, Meretz chairman Zehava Gal-On; Odeliah Carmon, one of his accusers; and multiple women’s support groups have condemned Katsav’s early release as problematically shifting the narrative to his being a victim from him being the victimizer.
The prosecution explained its decision not to appeal the Parole Board’s decision to release Katsav, saying that while it disagreed with the ruling, the decision was not unreasonable enough for an appeal, which would likely fail.
A Justice Ministry statement explained that Katsav had shown good behavior in prison, that all of the social work and rehabilitation experts were now recommending early release, and that even the prosecution had opened the possibility of an early release in six months.
It added that the early release did not in any way take away from the severity of Katsav’s crimes and that the prosecution’s stance against an early release had once again proved that “in the State of Israel, the law applies equally to everyone.”
Katsav’s release comes with 22 conditions. Some of the notable ones are that he must attend Torah classes at a yeshiva in his hometown on a daily basis, must attend a religious-rehabilitation group once a week, and must meet with a psychologist at least once a week.
He is not allowed to leave the country, must remain at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., and may not be interviewed by the media until December 2018, when his seven-year sentence would have been over absent an early release.
The former president also cannot hold any position where he would have authority over women.
The key issue before the Parole Board had remained his failure to express regret, and whether it could be argued that he had undergone some form of substantive rehabilitation in spite of that.
It appeared that part of what convinced the Parole Board to release Katsav was his having expressed some form of regret before them in closed session, though he has refused to do so in public.
“The members of the board were impressed that the prisoner underwent a significant journey since the first meeting of the committee, he removed his [fighting] gloves, he took the hand which was extended to him by the rehabilitation officials, and learned to engage them,” the board wrote.
“The prisoner today understands the meaning of his actions and his part in them, understands the harmed feelings of the women, and regrets the pain which he caused them.”
At the same time, the board said its ordering of Katsav’s release did not disregard the pain of his victims.
“The issue of the victims of the crime was expressed and taken into account during the criminal trial, the sentencing and during the decisions of the Parole Board in its earlier sessions.
The court pronounced its decision, and the prisoner received and served his punishment.
There is nothing about his being released or not being released that takes away from the anguish that the committee feels from [Katsav’s] actions or the heavy severity with which it views them,” it said.
Further, the Parole Board noted that Katsav had taken 43 leaves from prison and returned each time without incident.
The low point in Katsav’s struggle came in April, when the Parole Board rejected his early release request in a detailed opinion, writing, “Before us is a prisoner who denies that he committed the crimes, who continues to claim his innocence despite the court decisions...
which was manifested in his appearance before us.”
Also around that time, Katsav had filed a request to President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon in case he lost with the Parole Board. But that process was frozen by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in mid-June, since her ministry will not consider pardons as long as there are pending legal proceedings.
But all of that was forgotten on Wednesday when the country’s former head of state ended a nearly decade-long saga, leaving prison and returning home.