Jerusalem, Israel - Members of an abusive religious cult based in Jerusalem were arrested recently by the police.
The case, which according to police sources is "one of the most severe abuse cases of recent years", was initially placed under a comprehensive gag order. On Tuesday afternoon, the court modified the order to allow for the partial release of its details.
The cult in question centers around one man who married six women. According to police sources, the suspects sexually, physically and emotionally abused the leader's children for years, as well as all of the female members of the cult.
The cult leader has 15 sons and daughters, 11 of whom are his biological children. All have been removed from their home and placed under care of social services.
The investigation into the cult began when social workers received a complaint by one of the women embroiled in the cult, alleging abuse.
A subsequent police search of the premises uncovered further evidence to substantiate the complaint, including restraints, electric tasers, and wooden rods.
The police also uncovered personal journals detailing the horror, as well as medical documents from various clinics and hospitals where the children's injuries were treated.
The evidence suggests that the children, who were all home-schooled by the cult leader, were virtual prisoners in their home and were subjected to physical, sexual and emotional abuse by the male members of the cult.
The female members of the cult – both the leader's six wives and the wives of other members, were also physically and sexually abused by the leader.
'Leader delegated abuse duties'
According to Jerusalem Police Chief-Superintendent Shlomo Dai, who heads the investigation, the women and children were subjected to severe punishment, starvation, humiliation, and sexual abuse. "This is one of the gravest cases I've come across," he said.
It is believed that the cult's leader carried out most of the abuse personally, and that he also "delegated" the responsibility to his "deputy" and his wives, who themselves were victims of abuse.
The investigation further revealed that the leader's "deputy" – described in some of the journals as the "primordial snake" and "the devil" – executed "punishments" decreed by the cult leader, when he was unable to do so himself.
The "deputy" joined the cult several years ago, after he and his wife sought marital advice from the prime suspect.
Following their sessions with the cult's leader, the couple joined the cult, divorced, and the woman became one of the leader's wives.
A third man – who proclaimed himself the cult leader's "successor" – joined the cult 18 months ago with his wife and son. It is believed he had somewhat of a lesser part in the abuse.
In his initial interrogation, the cult's leader admitted most of the acts attributed to him, but alleged they were all consensual. He has since asserted his right to remain silent.
The "deputy" denied the allegations against him, while the third man said he only heard the abuse and was never part of it. Both men have since asserted their right to remain silent.
The three are represented by attorneys Giora Zilberstein, Benny Nahari, Elad Rhat and Yaakov Lerer.
"This is a horrifying case which crosses every red line," Social Affairs Minister Moshe Kahlon said Tuesday.
"The Social Affairs Ministry and the police will continue to fight against the abuse of women and children. The ministry battles the harmful phenomenon of cults on a daily basis."
Kahlon congratulated the police for arresting the cult's leader, "I expect the legal system to send an unequivocal message of zero-tolerance for such cases," he added.
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger issued the following statement: "I was gripped by terror and chills to hear about this horrid affair. The Torah condemns such people and Judaism shrinks from such loathsome behavior.
"I entreat chief rabbis to be wakeful and wary of such cases within their communities," he said.
The State Prosecutor's Office is expected to indict the three men on multiple counts of enslavement, abuse of a helpless minor, aggravated assault, imprisonment, and sexual abuse.
Each of the women has been assigned two social workers and each of the children has been assigned a caseworker.