A man who headed a religious cult that physically, mentally, and sexually abused a group of women and their children was sentenced to 26 years behind bars by the Jerusalem District Court on Thursday.
The man, 58, who has remained unnamed in the media, was also ordered to pay a total of NIS 100,000 (some $28,000) to his victims. A second man, who was an accomplice in the crimes, was sentenced to six years in prison. The separate trial of a third man involved in the case is still underway.
Prosecuting lawyer Sagi Ofer had asked for a sentence of 65 years for the cult leader and 20 years for his deputy.
“They have been given a sentence that isn’t trivial, but we believed that in cases like this it should be heavier,” Ofer said. “A punishment is supposed to convey a message to victims and minors who had the courage to complain.”
Despite the conviction, some of the cult’s women continue to support their leader, a resident of Jerusalem who associated himself with the Breslov Hassidic movement. They claim that witnesses were threatened into giving testimony.
The women called the proceedings “a lie,” adding that “we love this man and it was good to be with him.”
Last month the man and his assistant were found guilty of sex offenses, violence, confinement in conditions of slavery, and abuse of women and minors, including some of who are his own children. The court found that the man exploited his family’s religious faith, and their belief in him as a spiritual leader, in order to perpetrate the crimes against them.
A key witness in the case was a stepchild of the cult leader. The witness’s mother remains dedicated to the cult and did not speak to her son at the trial, Ynet reported.
The case shocked the country when it came to light in August 2011 after one of the women broke free and alerted authorities to the conditions that the man imposed on his followers. According to the court verdict, the group was composed of the man, six women, and 17 children. The convicted man convinced women to join with him in what initially appeared to be a pleasant life. However, once under his control, the women faced continued physical and sexual abuse, as did their children.
Initially, nine members of the family were arrested, including three men and six women, but only the three men were indicted. The children were placed with foster families.
The case not only made headlines for the severity of the charges, but also for a court-mandated gag order on the case meant to shield the victims, women and young children, from being identified. Initially, only a heavily edited version of the original indictment was released to the public.
Police used the information in personal journals kept by the women and children to uncover details about the abuses and build their case.
The women and children were subject to daily “confessions” and “judgments” and were punished by means of imprisonment, starvation, physical and mental abuse, humiliation, sexual abuse, and severe violence, according to the indictment. Police found numerous torture devices when they searched the house.