President Shimon Peres on Wednesday defended his decision to reduce the sentences of the five Israeli Arabs convicted of the 1983 murder of teenager Danny Katz, telling Israel Radio that the decision was purely legal, and was not based on political considerations.
Peres said that four separate legal bodies discussed the case, and all of them reached the unanimous conclusion that the sentences should be reduced. Nonetheless, Peres said that the reasons for his decision could not be published because they are classified.
Minister of Strategic Threats Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday called on Peres to reconsider his decision, saying the murderers were 'despicable' and had blood on their hands. Lieberman said reducing their sentences would only encourage increased crime and lawlessness.
Earlier Wednesday, Peres issued a statement in which he expressed sympathy for the pain that his decision has caused the Katz family, but stressed that the original sentence handed down to the defendants was harsher than what was acceptable at the time. He added that he made the decision based on the recommendation of Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and the committee on the reduction of life sentences.
"The president decided, based on the recommendations [he was given], that two of the murderers will serve 45 years in prison and the three additional murders will serve 30 years," said the statement. "It should be noted that the standard life sentence during the period in which the prisoners were tried was 24 years, and due to the severity of the crime the professional committee, justice minister and president decided to issue a harsher sentence than the standard of that period."
Danny Katz's mother Mira slammed Peres' decision Wednesday, saying it was made out of political considerations in order to placate the Arab sector and help the left-wing in elections. "Peres had not even settled in the president's chair, and immediately rushed to free eight murderers, savages, who murdered an innocent boy next to his home," said Katz. "We have been receiving telephone calls from around the country, and everyone is saying that [former president Moshe] Katsav is better than someone who reduces murders' sentences."
In March 1984, the five were arrested again and after several remands and a very lengthy trial they were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 27 years.
Former chief justice Aharon Barak in 1999 decided that the five were eligible for a retrial, and two months later three of them were released on bond. Two others, Ahmed Kousli and Wataf Sabihi, were convicted of the murder of Daphna Carmon in 1987 and were not eligible for release on bond as they were serving a life sentence for that crime.
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