The Haifa Magistrate's Court on Sunday sentenced a pediatrician who distributed pedophiliac images on the Internet to an 18-month jail term.
Both the prosecution and the defense were surprised by the harshness of the sentence handed down by Judge Zaid Falah against Dr. Avraham Barkai, who works for the Meuhedet health maintenance organization. The defense immediately announced that it planned to appeal the ruling.
Barkai was convicted in November on charges filed against him a year-and-half beforehand.
The pedophiliac material was discovered on Barkai's home computer, which police got permission to search after being tipped off by Australian law enforcement officials. During the arrest of a suspect in Australia, the officials had searched his computer and found files of pedophilia there which had been downloaded from an Internet protocol address that belonged to Barkai.
The 190,000 videos and pictures discovered on Barkai's computer included images of children aged 8 to 10 having sex with adults. Barkai had installed software called GigaTribe that facilitated the sharing of the material with others.
Barkai confessed that he had possessed the pornographic material for 15 years, but denied that he was involved in its distribution, which was the main focus of the trial.
Even after being indicted, Barkai continued to practice in Meuhedet's Neveh Sha'anan clinic, after a Health Ministry disciplinary committee ruled in December 2010 that he could continue to see patients as long as there was a parent or HMO nurse in the room.
The disciplinary committee had subsequently recommended extending this arrangement, but Health Ministry director general Prof. Roni Gamzu refused and suspended Barkai's license for six months or until the end of legal proceedings against him.
During his sentencing last week, Barkai, 45, told the court that he felt "great shame" and asked for mercy.
Several character witnesses testified on Barkai's behalf, including nurses and doctors who had worked with him, saying that he was an excellent diagnostician, that parents trusted him and that there had never been a professional complaint against him.
The prosecution asked for imprisonment, noting his crimes carried a maximum jail term of five years. The probation service, however, recommended that he not be jailed, but be allowed instead to perform community service; for his part, Barkai's attorney cited precedents from similar cases where the accused received such a sentence.
But Judge Falah ruled that distribution of pedophilia was a grave crime, and sentenced Barkai to prison, starting April 15.