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Attorney Assails Newspaper Accounts of Trials in USSR As Completely Distorted

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A San Francisco attorney who was in Russia during the recent trials of Jews in Leningrad and Riga sharply criticized American newspaper accounts of the trials based on reports by Tass, the Soviet news agency. Ephraim Margolin, who specializes in criminal and constitutional law, said “I found this picture to be completely distorted on the basis of dozens of conversations with friends and relatives of those who are being tried.” Margolin, a national officer of the American Jewish Congress, reported his experiences on a two week visit to the Soviet Union, during which he found himself being questioned by the secret police in Riga and threatened with deportation. He claimed that in both the Leningrad and Riga trials, the Soviets used their legal code, which states that the names of defense witnesses must be provided to the prosecution, in order to make sure that the witnesses would not appear. “In the Leningrad trial,” he said, “several defense witnesses were arrested eight days before the trial started, while others were sent out of town by their employer, which is of course, the State.” Margolin reported that when the witnesses returned and offered to testify at a new trial if held, they “were told not to speak of what happened under threat of being fired from their jobs.” Margolin stated that “In contrast, the prosecution provided police and secret police witnesses who testified on technical matters.” In Riga, where the trial of four Jews ended last Thursday and 1-3 years’ sentences handed down, Isaiah Averbuch, the fiance of Ruth Aleksandrovich, one of the defendants, was arrested five days before the trial.

“He (Averbuch) was sentenced the next morning under an administrative jail procedure,” Margolin reported. “He was not allowed an attorney or bail and since the penalty is only 15 days, under Soviet law no appeal is possible. In this way, Averbuch and others were prevented from attending the trial of his fiance.” Margolin said he returned from the USSR convinced of “the incredible bravery and determination of a significant number of Russian Jews to assert their culture in a search for their Jewish identity.” He said he met young Jews in Moscow, Riga and Leningrad “who talked openly and freely of their desire to live as Jews in Israel, this despite the fact that their phones were bugged, their apartments under electronic surveillance and all their moves monitored by the secret police.” Margolin brought back with him a copy of an open letter to Soviet Communist Party Secretary Leonid Brezhnev signed by nine Kishinev Jews, protesting the imprisonment of friends there who are awaiting trial. The letter, which included the street addresses of the signers, demanded the immediate release of the prisoners and “that we all be allowed to leave for our homeland.” Nine Jews are facing trial in Kishinev, on charges stemming from the alleged Leningrad hijack plot. The trial had been scheduled to begin last Thursday but was postponed. No reason was given for the postponement.

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