LONDON (Dec. 30)
A world which had paid little attention to the Leningrad trial until the sentences were handed down last week, waited anxiously today for the outcome of the appeal lodged with the , Supreme Court of the Russian Federation on behalf of the II defendants, two of whom have been sentenced to death. A group of about a dozen Jews, barred from entering the building, stood for hours today in snow and freezing cold awaiting news outside the Supreme Court on Moscow’s Red Square. But the court recessed until tomorrow without rendering a decision. The prosecution will present its case tomorrow. The 11 defendants were convicted in Leningrad City Court last week of plotting to hijack a Soviet airliner last June to fly to Finland or Sweden whence they could go to Israel. The alleged ring-leader Mark Dymshitz, and co-defendant Edvard Kuznetsov, were sentenced to execution by firing squad. The others, all but two of them Jews, received prison terms of four-15 years. The severity of the sentences brought outcries of protest from all parts of the world and appeals for clemency by governments, religious and lay leaders. The verdict on the appeal will show whether the Soviet authorities are responsive to the outcry which reportedly caught them by surprise.
Information reached here today that dissident groups throughout the Soviet Union have expressed sympathy with the Leningrad defendants. According to the informants, dissident underground publications have carried full reports of the proceedings, including the statements of the defendants before sentence was pronounced. The official Soviet press has carried only scant accounts of the trial and did not publish the statements by the accused. Some optimism was engendered yesterday by the announcement that the appeal hearing would take place this morning, five days after sentence was pronounced. Normally, hearings are not set for six to eight weeks after trial. On the other hand, observers here noted that the Supreme Court rarely overturns the verdict of lower courts in “political” cases. The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, corresponding roughly to State Supreme Courts in the U.S., is not the highest in the land. The defendants were not permitted to appeal to the Supreme Court of the USSR. But they still have a court of last resort in the Presidium of the Russian Republic’s Supreme Soviet or parliament, should today’s appeal fail.
Observers here said that Communist Party leaders could influence the decision since there is no strict separation of powers between the judiciary, and the Party. The Leningrad defendants are not appearing before the Supreme Court but are represented there by defense counsel appointed by the Leningrad court. Informed sources said their lawyers would probably argue that they should not have been tried under the section of the Soviet criminal code dealing with treason but under other articles on theft of state property and unlawful departure which carry neither the death penalty nor long prison terms. The Supreme Court has four alternatives: It can leave the verdict unchanged; vacate the judgment of the Leningrad City Court; order a new trial or reduce the sentence. Soviet Intellectuals, many of them at odds with the regime, are believed to sympathize with the Leningrad defendants. Andrei D. Sakharov, a Soviet physicist and civil libertarian, has pleaded with President Nikolai Pokorny to prevent the death sentences from being carried out and to lighten the other sentences. He called the death penalties “unjustified brutality” and observed that the hijack plot had been prompted by “restrictions placed on the legal right of tens of thousands of Jews to leave the country.” Sakharov also made public a letter he wrote at the same time to President Nixon asking for clemency for Angela Davis, a black militant Marxist facing trial for murder in California.