State’s Witness Named in Tel Aviv Gay Killing Case

Judge voids gag order on Zaur Khankashiyev, indicted in March for obstruction of justice and fabricating evidence.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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State's witness Zaur Khankashiyev in court, March 2014.Credit: Moti Milrod
Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Zaur Khankashiyev was named on Thursday as the state’s witness in the case investigating a double murder at the Barnoar gay youth club, Tel Aviv, in August 2009. Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham lifted a gag order against the state’s wishes, citing the public’s right to know.

The state cancelled its witness deal with Khankashiyev last month, amid suspicions that he fabricated his testimony against Hagai Felician, who was charged with murder and attempted murder in July 2013. Charges against Felician were dropped in March, after he spent nine months in detention.

Despite cancelling the deal with Khankashiyev, the state wanted to keep his name under wraps, claiming he could be in danger if it was published. A Tel Aviv District Court judge kept the gag order in place, though he noted that it was a curious order.

Justice Shoham decided to reverse the decision, however. “I reached the conclusion that there is no concrete basis in the intelligence materials to claim that disclosing his identity would contribute or intensify any danger he’s exposed to,” wrote Shoham. “If, in the future, new and reliable information reaches the authorities, the Shin Bet [security service] or Israel Police, all necessary steps will be taken to prevent any harm from coming to the witness.”

In ruling that when a source lies his identity will be published and will not remain protected, the judge set a precedent. The decision also cast doubt over the liberal use of "intelligence sources" by both the police and prosecutors when seeking the extension of remand or requesting gag orders. In now turns out that the intelligence on which the original judge based his decision to forbid publication was unfounded.  

Last month, the prosecution issued an indictment against Khankashiyev for obstruction of justice, fabricating evidence, providing false testimony, subornation and fraud.

In response to the indictments against him, Khankashiyev stated that everything he did, he “was instructed to do.” With regards to the gag order, his then defense attorney, Yair Regev, stated that Khankashiyev was “first and foremost a source of information,” and that the public good requires the government to keep his identity a secret. Regev also stated at the time that Khankashiyev was in danger not only from those involved with the case, “but the entire criminal underworld.”

Justice Shoham criticized the Tel Aviv District Court judge, stating there was no substantial discussion on the subject, and that the request made by Haaretz was simply rejected. “The court, which received a request to cancel a ban on publishing the information, should have held a hearing on the request with all of the relevant parties, and the court erred by not doing so.

“There is a pertinent public interest in publishing any information found by the investigation that led to the indictment, including the identity of the accused,” Shoham added. “The Barnoar murder affair is like a bloody wound on Israeli society, and any developments in this case are of extreme public interest. It turns out that revealing the identity of those involved in the murder is not a result of fraud or deceit from the accused, so clearly there is public interest in knowing ... the identity of the criminal. I cannot accept the claim that we are simply engaging in gossip, and I believe that publishing his identity is not meant to ‘satisfy any kind of hunger for gossip.’”

The gag was lifted in response to a request by Haaretz, through attorneys Tal Lieblich and Liat Bergman Ravid.