"Peres hasn't even warmed the presidential seat and already he is busy releasing the vile men who murdered my brother," said Amnon Katz on Tuesday evening following President Shimon Peres'
statement that he would reduce the sentences of the five men convicted of murdering his brother Danny Katz in 1983.
The five are currently serving life sentences for the murder. Two of them were also convicted of murdering female Israeli soldier Daphna Carmon in 1987 and are serving longer sentences.
Peres signed off on the decision along with Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann after receiving the recommendation of a statutory committee. The convicts will now be allowed to ask the parole board to reduce their sentences by a third.
Peres: I understand family's pain
Following the criticism directed at the president, the President's Office on Wednesday issued a statement explaining his decision.
"The president, Mr Shimon Peres, understands the pain of the Katz family, whose son Danny was murdered by vile people. In accordance with a procedure since the State's foundation, the president must determine the length of prisoners' life sentence, after a committee headed by a judge submits detailed and reasoned recommendations to the Justice Ministry."
According to the statement, "Only after the justice minister approved the committee's recommendations in the discussed case, the president decided to accept the recommendations of the justice minister and the professional committee, and ruled, in accordance with the recommendations, that the jail term of two of the murderers will total 45 years (one prisoner will be released in 2020 and the other in 2029), and the other three got jail terms of 30 years.
"It should be noted that the customary life sentence when the prisoners' trial was held stood at 24 years, and due to the severity of the acts the professional committee, the justice minister and the president decided on a higher and more severe punishment compared to the level of punishment at that period time."
Likud faction chairman, Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar, demanded that the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee hold an urgent meeting on the matter. According to Sa'ar, the president's decision is "outrageous", as the murderers were reconvicted several years ago and their appeal was rejected.
"One can only imagine the responses in Israel if any other country in the world decided to release five murderers who killed a Jewish boy only because he was Jewish," Sa'ar said.
Amnon Katz said the decision was capitulation to intense political pressure. "The statutory committee was appointed by the justice minister, he chose who would be on it and it seems that he had already decided what he wanted their conclusion to be.
All of the committee's work was kept quiet so that none of those who would oppose it would say anything. These are the same leftists who for years worked tirelessly to try and release these murderers through the courts; they portrayed them in the media as pitiful men and pushed for a retrial," he said.
The attorney representing the five men, Avigdor Feldman, welcomed Peres' decision and said he still believed his clients were innocent despite the result of the retrial. "There has never been any objective evidence in this case other than their confessions, which don't add up, said Feldman.
MK Taleb el-Sana (United Arab List – Ta'al), who in his last meeting with Peres urged him to reduce the five's sentence, also said he was pleased with the decision. El-Sana issued a statement saying that during his meeting with Peres he also asked him to pardon Suliman al-Abid, who was convicted of the
rape and murder of 16-year-old teenager Hanit Kikus in 1993.
Men convicted again in 1999 retrial
Danny Katz was murdered in December 1983 after leaving his home in one of Haifa's upscale neighborhoods on his way to visit a friend. His body was found four days later in a cave near the Israeli Arab village of Sachnin. In 1985 the Haifa District Court sentenced Ahmed Kuzli, Samir Janama, Fathi Janama, Ali Janim and Aatef Sabihi of the kidnapping and murder of Katz based on their confessions.
For years the men sought a retrial, saying they had only confessed under duress.
In 1999 former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak ruled that the five would receive a retrial. The five defendants were found guilty on all counts in the retrial; the judge presiding over the case rejected the men's claims that their confessions had been forcibly extracted.
The defendants then appealed to the High Court of Justice but their arguments were rejected by the court which acknowledged that the police had made errors in their interrogations, but that the confessions had been obtained soundly.
"During the retrial we were scared that they might walk, not because they aren't guilty, but because proving their guilt after 15 years is difficult. But despite that, the court explicitly ruled that these men committed the terrible and horrifying murder of a Jewish boy out of nationalistic motives, that was also the conclusion after they appealed," said Amnon Katz.
"The minister of justice and president of Israel – who has not yet even warmed his seat – and they decide to release these vicious killers, or quicken their release. It cannot and shouldn't be that the president decides to release killers who 20 judges have ruled responsible for my brother's murder."