The Parole Board on Sunday granted former president Moshe Katsav’s request for an early release from prison, five years into his seven-year sentence for rape.
The board granted the state 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.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Ministry said officials were just starting to study the decision, and it did not appear that a decision on whether to appeal would be made until later in the week.
Katsav’s release includes 22 conditions. Some of the notable ones are that he must attend Torah classes at a yeshiva in his hometown of Kiryat Malachi 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.
Katsav, 71, 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.
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He entered Ma’asiyahu Prison in Ramle in December 2011.
Katsav’s lawyers Zion Amir and Shani Iluz told the media outside the court on Sunday that when Katsav heard the decision, he could not contain himself and immediately began weeping.
The key issue 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 publicly he has refused to do so.
“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 committee noted that a major Supreme Court decision that the prosecution relied on for demanding that Katsav express public remorse for his actions – as opposed to a general recognition that he caused his victims pain – did not apply directly to the current case.
In that case, the Supreme Court did strike down an early release, but it was an early release from a military parole board, which had ordered a release after the prisoner had only served half of his time.
In contrast, once the prisoner had served more time, the military prisoner was released and no appeal was filed to the Supreme Court.
This would suggest that the prior Supreme Court decision would not bind Katsav to express remorse since even the prisoner in that case was eventually given an early release without expressing remorse.
Last Sunday, Katsav’s lawyers made his case, the third time Katsav had sought an early release.
Social workers from the prisoner rehabilitation committee switched in August to supporting his release, but the board still rejected his requests in April and August. However, reports indicated that he had undergone an individualized rehabilitation process (foregoing standard group rehabilitation) which had even weakened the prosecution’s opposition to his release.
Katsav’s efforts had already made progress on July 5, when the Lod District Court ordered the Parole Board to review his early release request a second time, after it had rejected his request in April.
The order came in light the new prisoner rehabilitation committee opinion in his favor.
These events were not enough to free him at the time, but reports indicated that the momentum had steadily shifted toward some kind of early release.
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.
Ultimately, it appears that Katsav’s best chance at an early release was to exhibit humility, and openness to the Parole Board’s expectations of a rehabilitated prisoner.
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