In keeping with the Jewish tradition of compassion and forgiveness during the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the penitential period between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, President Reuven Rivlin will grant pardons and exercise clemency in cases in which he and his legal advisers believe the prisoners are deserving of leniency.
In a statement issued Tuesday from Rivlin’s office, it was disclosed that the president is currently dealing with some 1,400 requests for pardons and clemency.
In March it was announced that Rivlin, together with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, had decided to grant special pardons during Israel’s 70th anniversary year.
Such pardons apply to people who have not committed serious crimes – in particular to soldiers and civilian national service volunteers who have expressed remorse, have behaved well and have demonstrated a desire to be rehabilitated.
Rivlin said at the time that the granting of pardons and commuting of sentences on important national days is a tradition in several countries around the world, including Israel.
The Basic Law gives the president of Israel the authority to pardon convicted felons or to commute their sentences.
Special pardons were granted by Rivlin’s predecessors during the 30th, 40th and 50th anniversaries of the state, as well as on the 15th anniversary of the liberation and reunification of Jerusalem.
Of the 1,400 requests, 70 have already been reviewed and approved by Rivlin and Shaked and set aside as special pardons of grace out of consideration for special circumstances.
From the second half of April through the end of July, a total of 2,540 written requests for pardons and clemency reached the president’s office. Of those, 1,400 were new appeals that had not previously been addressed to Rivlin.
During the same period last year, the president received 630 appeals, of which 440 were new.
Out of all the requests for clemency this year, Rivlin has so far acquiesced to 300 that met the criteria established for the state’s 70th anniversary.
In this context, he also expunged the criminal records of 15 soldiers whose crimes were committed before they joined the army, in recognition of how well the soldiers have done in the IDF and on the recommendations of their commanders. Rivlin is currently in the process of eliminating the criminal records of an additional 25 soldiers, some of whom have already completed their mandatory army service.
Among the civilians granted clemency is a young Bedouin woman who was a child bride and was sexually abused by both her first and second husbands, and constantly humiliated in the cruelest manner by her family. The second husband was so brutal that she had no option but to kill him. At the time she was 17 years old. The young woman has responded positively to psychological and occupational therapy in prison. The president reduced her sentence in order to make her eligible for an appearance before the parole board.
In another case, Rivlin reduced the sentence of a mother of seven children whose sick husband is unable to function. She was convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for driving after her license had been revoked. This was her first conviction and she has already served part of her sentence. Her family is in dire economic straits, so much so that they are barely capable of survival, and the sorry situation was much worse without the presence of the mother.
Rivlin was moved to grant a request for clemency from a young man in his early twenties who had been charged with criminal negligence in a car accident that cost the life of his best friend. The dead man’s family supported the request, because the convicted man had gone to great lengths to express his sorrow and remorse, and they regard him fondly as one of their own.
In another case, Rivlin granted clemency to a first-time offender who had been sentenced to 10 months in prison on drug charges. The man is a single father with a 15-year-old daughter whose mother has severed all contact with her. The father has gone through a satisfactory rehabilitation process that Rivlin said he must continue now that he is being released from prison.
Clemency was also granted to another man convicted on drug charges, who while in prison suffered a stroke and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer. Rivlin decided that prison was not the place for this man and significantly reduced his sentence.
In granting pardons and requests for clemency, Rivlin said the character of a society can often be ascertained by the way it treats its prisoners and convicted felons, who in a sense are a reflection of society itself. He emphasized the importance of looking beyond the moment to the future, and stretching out a collective hand of opportunity to prisoners and former convicts in order to give them another chance to redeem themselves and become productive citizens.