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Israeli jailed in Madagascar for smuggling tortoises

The 39-year-old man from Beitar Illit, south of Jerusalem, was arrested two months ago.

Rare Mexican box turtles seized at the Memphis Port of Entry in Memphis, Tenn, May 18, 2021. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Rare Mexican box turtles seized at the Memphis Port of Entry in Memphis, Tenn, May 18, 2021. Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A Madagascar court has sentenced an Israeli man to two years in prison for attempting to smuggle dozens of rare tortoises out of the country, local media reported on Monday.

The man, whose identity remains under gag order, was also fined $400.

The 39-year-old from Beitar Illit, south of Jerusalem, was arrested two months ago at the airport after 59 rare tortoises were found in his possession.

According to Ynet, the prosecution is seeking a sentence of 10 years in prison, with a fine of $100,000. 

The defendant claims that he was not aware he was doing anything illegal. He attempted to transport the radiated and spider tortoises to Israel via Bangkok, Thailand. The animals were found in his suitcase before he boarded an Ethiopian Airlines flight with a connection in Addis Ababa.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has tried to intervene in his detention; he has told his attorney Mordechai Tzivin that he is being held in terrible conditions. He has been transferred four times.

“Save me, what’s happening here is unbelievable. I am constantly cornered, they took my clothes and I have nothing to eat. I won’t last here,” the man said in a recent phone call to Tzivin, according to Ynet.

“I sleep in a crowded room with 150 people, each of us having little space. It’s rough here; I feel threatened as anyone can harm me. Just last week someone tried to touch me, and when I protested, he hit me twice. The nights feel never-ending and I long for morning to come. I gave the jailer my food to get my tefillin, but then another person asked for money. When I refused, he punched me in the eye and took my tefillin away.”

The defendant pays $200 a week for kosher food but says that other inmates frequently steal it.

The defendant was expected to appeal the decision.

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