ISRAEL: Israeli ex-president Moshe Katsav was freed from prison on Wednesday after prosecutors declined to appeal a parole board decision to release him after he served five years of a seven-year term for rape.
Katsav, 71, did not speak to a crowd of journalists gathered outside the Maasiyahu prison near Tel Aviv as he left while surrounded by family.
He was convicted in December 2010 of two counts of rape, sexual harassment, indecent acts and obstruction of justice.
The Iran-born bureaucrat, who rose from impoverished origins as a child immigrant, resigned from the largely ceremonial role of president in June 2007 and became an outcast of the political establishment.
When he entered prison in December 2011, he became the first former president to be jailed in Israel since its creation in 1948.
Katsav had been rejected twice by the parole board since he became eligible for the customary one-third reduction for good behaviour.
He had maintained his innocence, and his previous applications were turned down in part because he had expressed no remorse over his crimes and undergone no rehabilitative process.
Women's rights groups had especially criticised his refusal to acknowledge the facts that led to his conviction and to express regrets.
Israeli media reported, however, that the parole board in its latest decision, announced on Sunday, found that Katsav had more recently "undergone a change".
"The prisoner was asked many questions by the committee members regarding the circumstances of the offence, the victims' positions, his attitude to the victims and his understanding of his acts and their consequences, and the committee members were impressed by the honesty of his intentions," Haaretz newspaper reported the board as saying.
Israel's justice ministry announced Wednesday that prosecutors would not appeal the parole board's decision. They had been given a one-week deadline to do so.
- Release criticised -
Katsav will face restrictions on his movements including a ban on overseas travel and a requirement to be at home between 10:00 pm and 6:00 am.
Judiciary sources said he would also not be allowed to grant an interview for two years, the time he would have had to serve the remainder of his sentence.
The decision to free him has been criticised by a group of opposition lawmakers including the leader of the Meretz party, Zehava Galon.
"This is a dangerous message that you can attack women and get away with it with the least punishment provided you are well-connected," they said in a statement.
A member of the right-wing Likud party, Katsav in 2000 became Israel's first conservative president and the first born in an Islamic country.
For months he defied enormous public pressure to quit over the allegations before ultimately resigning as part of a plea bargain in 2007.
He was replaced as head of state by Nobel Peace Prize laureate and elder statesman Shimon Peres, his rival for the post in a 2000 vote. Peres died in September.
One of eight children, Katsav was born in December 1945 and arrived in Israel three years after the 1948 war of independence.
He was the first Israeli head of state to visit Austria, once annexed by Adolf Hitler as part of Nazi Germany, and Croatia, where an estimated 75 percent of its 40,000 Jews were killed during the World War II Holocaust.
One of Katsav's fellow inmates at Maasiyahu was former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who entered prison in February and is serving 27 months for corruption.
Olmert is the first former Israeli premier to serve jail time.