December 23, 2016
An Israeli parole board voted Sunday to release former President Moshe Qatsav now that he has served five years of a seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offences, his lawyer announced.
Israeli media said Qatsav’s release would be frozen for seven days for prosecutors to decide whether to appeal the decision. Commentators said the chances of an appeal against the decision were minimal, however.
Qatsav’s lawyer, Tzion Amir, said the 70-year-old Iranian-born Qatsav burst into tears on hearing the ruling.
Qatsav began his sentence in December 2011 and had already been rejected twice by the parole board since he became eligible for the customary one-third reduction for good behavior behind bars.
His previous applications for release were turned down because he had expressed no remorse.
Women’s rights groups had especially criticized his refusal to acknowledge the facts that led to his conviction and to express regrets.
Israeli media reported, however, that the parole board found Qatsav had recently “undergone a change.”
“The prisoner was asked many questions by the committee members regarding the circumstances of the offence, the victims’ positions, his attitude to the victims and his understanding of his acts and their consequences, and the committee members were impressed by the honesty of his intentions,” Haaretz daily reported the parole board as saying.
Once released, Qatsav will face restrictions on his movements, including a ban on overseas travel and a requirement to be at home between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
Judicial sources said he would also not be allowed to grant an interview for two years, the remainder of his original sentence.
The decision to free him was criticized by a group of opposition lawmakers including the leader of the leftwing Meretz party, Zehava Galon. “This is a dangerous message that you can attack women and get away with it with the least punishment, provided you are well-connected,” they said in a statement.
Qatsav had maintained his innocence despite being convicted in December 2010 on two counts of rape of staff aides, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice.
A member of the rightwing Likud party, a former cabinet minister, and for long the highest ranking Iranian-born official in Israel, he became Israel’s first conservative president in 2000 and the first born in an Islamic country.
One of eight children, Qatsav was born in Yazd in December 1945 and arrived in Israel with his parents as a six-year-old in 1951, three years after Israel became a state. He grew up in a poor immigrant settlement, which elected him mayor in his 20s to start his political career.
After the charges were brought against him, he defied enormous public pressure to quit before ultimately resigning as part of a plea bargain in 2007.
He was replaced as head of state by Nobel peace laureate and elder statesman Shimon Peres, the man he beat for the largely ceremonial post in 2000.