Jerusalem police have arrested eight members of the ultra-Orthodox Bratslav sect in recent days on suspicion of trying to interfere with the trial of three cultists, indicted last August for physical abuse of women and children over a two-year period.
This week's arrests were kept under wraps due to a gag order until Monday. The police suspect the eight worked together to suborn witnesses scheduled to appear at the trial of their leader and two others. The eight were all remanded until Friday.
The cult leader, whose full name has not been released but is known as D., is accused of sexual abuse, imprisonment, enslavement and other charges. The trial of D. and his two aides is scheduled to start in the summer.
The 55-year-old cult leader, a resident of Jerusalem who originally immigrated from France and was a follower of the Breslav Hasidic movement, was also arrested this week for the alleged organizing of the suborning of witnesses from his prison cell.
D. was unofficially married to six different women, most of whom were divorced and with children, and over whom he was said to have total control. Those arrested are suspected of planning on hiding the witnesses, including some of D.'s children and former wives, in a rented apartment in the northern town of Yavniel.
The women and most of the children have been living in Social Affairs Ministry facilities since the affair was revealed and D. was arrested last summer, but they were scheduled to leave the facilities in the near future.
Two of the witnesses, one of D.'s former wives and a 15-year-old child, have already managed to disappear and the police have yet to locate them. The police now suspect that two of D.'s children were also involved in perpetrating the sexual abuse of their siblings and the women.
All those arrested deny the charges and said they rented the apartment for use as a vacation home. Their lawyer said the suspects all firmly believe in the innocence of D., and view the investigation as an attempt to frame them on false charges.
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