Israeli Court Sends Man Convicted of Polygamy to Jail, Overturning Lighter Sentence

Amin Abu Sakik, the first to be convicted since enforcement was renewed in 2017, was originally sentenced to community service, but the state appealed the decision

Amin Abu Sakik outside of the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court, February 28, 2019.
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Be’er Sheva District Court sentenced a 34-year-old Rahat man who was convicted of polygamy to seven months in prison, overturning the lighter sentence issued by the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court.

Amin Abu Sakik was the first person to be convicted on this count since enforcement of the law was renewed in 2017.

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In June 2017, Abu Sakik married a 21-year-old Palestinian woman, even though he had been married to another woman since 2006. A Sharia court ratified his second marriage. Abu Sakik admitted the charges and was convicted last February. His confession helped in setting his penalty, with Judge Solkin sentencing Abu Sakik to community service rather than a prison sentence.

A three-judge district court panel headed by Judge Revital Yaffe-Katz reasoned that the lower court had erred in imposing a light sentence despite the policy of enhanced enforcement and in light of the severity of the defendant’s actions. The court stated that the abuse and harm done to women in polygamous marriages must stop. The court reduced the financial penalty imposed on Abu Sakik from 75,000 to 25,000 shekels ($7,000).

State prosecutors had appealed the lower court’s ruling, arguing that 400 hours of community service, a one-year suspended sentence and a fine were insufficient. Even Solkin wrote in his ruling that polygamy warrants a nine- to 24-month prison sentence, but that in the meantime lighter sentences should prevail, with a gradual introduction of harsher sentences. State prosecutors argued that setting such temporary measures that lie outside the customary range of penalties was a mistake.

The state also argued that Solkin’s determination that the Sharia court’s ratification of the marriage afforded him some protection was wrong. State prosecutors maintained that the Sharia court only ruled that the marriage had been performed according to Islamic law, and could not be used retroactively to justify a violation of the law. The qadi who approved the marriage had no choice, since the marriage was performed according to Islamic religious specifications.

According to attorney Leonora Montilio in the Be’er Sheva state prosecutor’s office, who spoke after the ruling was handed down, “Polygamy is very harmful, mainly in hurting the status of women in Bedouin society. The court has delivered a clear message that polygamy is impermissible and harms the character of the state as a democratic country which fosters gender equality. It must be eradicated, partly by imposing harsh sentences.”

The enforcement of the law against polygamy was resumed after many years of neglect by the police and state prosecutors. In 2015, shortly after assuming office, then Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ordered the convening of a committee devoted to enhanced enforcement of anti-polygamy laws, in the context of civil and criminal law. In January 2017, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit published new guidelines for addressing the problem.