NEW YORK (May. 26)
A verdict will be handed down tomorrow in the trial of four Jews in Riga, Jewish sources reported today. The four, Ruth Aleksandrovich, Mikhail Shepshelovich, Arkady Shipilberg and Boris Maftsier, went on trial Monday on charges of anti-Soviet activities and face sentences of up to seven years. The trial had been expected to last for two weeks and there was no explanation for the sudden speed-up. Jewish sources here said that the prosecution in the trial asked today that Shpilberg be sentenced to 4 years in prison, Shepshelovich to 2 years, and Miss Aleksandrovich and Maftsier to 1 year each. The defense responded that there was no proof of “anti-Soviet activities,” which carry a maximum sentence of 15 years, and asked that the charges be reduced to dissemination of anti-Soviet literature with the knowledge that the action is illegal, which carries a maximum 3-year term. The sources said the prosecution asked for only 1-year sentences for Miss Aleksandrovich and Maftsier because the former suffers from an asthmatic condition and the latter asked for mercy.
Yesterday, according to reports, 22 witnesses testified, among them five Jews who were convicted and sentenced at the first and second Leningrad trials for allegedly plotting to hijack a Soviet airliner. According to Tass, the official Soviet news agency, the Leningrad defendants implicated the Riga defendants. Jewish sources denied today that this was so. The Jewish sources identified the Jews who testified yesterday as Silva Zalmanson; her brother, Israel; Mendel Bodnia and Anatoly A. Altman, all convicted at the first Leningrad trial last December, and Vladimir Osherovich Mogilever, one of the nine convicted at the second Leningrad trial which ended a week ago. The Riga trial was conducted in almost total secrecy in a special building on a heavily guarded peninsula outside the Riga city limits. The foreign press and spectators were barred. According to Jewish sources, the courtroom was filled with KGB (secret police) officials. Relatives of the accused have not been permitted in the court except to take the witness stand. The presiding judge was identified as Latka and the state prosecutor Tsibisov. Their first names were not given. The only official news from the trial comes from Tass which Jewish sources say is not to be trusted. According to these sources, the defendants looked well and conducted themselves with dignity. They reportedly refused to confess to any crimes against the Soviet state.
Evidence introduced but not produced in court included a suitcase said to have contained “pamphlets from Israel” which was dug up from the sand dunes near Riga. The defendants were accused of distributing the alleged pamphlets for subversive purposes. Miss Aleksandrovich reportedly told the court that she did not consider herself guilty of anti-Soviet activity in any form. Shpilberg reportedly testified that the only leaflet he distributed was one titled “Our Native Tongue” which was an appeal to study the language of the Bible. He denied involvement in any kind of conspiracy against the Soviet state. He said he and the other defendants met only to celebrate Jewish holidays, the sources reported. Meanwhile, Miss Aleksandrovich’s fiance, Isaiah Averbuch, and Misha Neuberger, who were jailed May 17 for 15 days, reportedly to prevent them from testifying at the Riga trial, have gone on a hunger strike, the sources said. They have threatened to continue their fast until the trial ends. As they are being held incommunicado, their only sources of news are the prison authorities.