Leaders of Major Jewish Groups Assail Riga Sentences As ‘death Sentences’

Leaders of two major Jewish organizations assailed today the sentences handed down last week in Riga against four Soviet Jews. Mrs. Faye L. Schenk, president of Hadassah, appealed for clemency from the Supreme Soviet, the only body which can act to reverse the action by the Latvian Supreme Court which sentenced the Riga Four to prison terms of 1-3 years. Phil Baum, national director of the American Jewish Congress Commission on International Affairs, termed the sentences “shocking but predictable” and urged the support of everyone “to ensure to the beleaguered Soviet Jewish community at least minimal personal and civil rights.” The Riga Four were charged with publishing and distributing anti-Soviet literature. Arkady Shpilberg was sentenced to 3 years, Mikhail Shepshelovich to 2 years, and Ruth Aleksandrovich and Boris Maftsier to 1 year each.

Mrs. Schenk stated that the sentences to be served in a Soviet “strict regime” prison camp, where the diet totals 900 calories a day, could “become a death sentence” for some. Miss Aleksandrovich is currently in poor health suffering from asthma and a kidney ailment. In her appeal for clemency, Mrs. Schenk stated that although the sentences “appear mild in legal terms,” they are, nevertheless, “hideous when the charges are based on people’s beliefs – having to do with individual conscience – and have no bearing on the security of the government.” Baum, speaking at an AJCongress meeting in Los Angeles, stated that the sentences “represent the fierce determination of the Soviet authorities to root out every vestige of Jewish identity and to repress every expression of Jewish attachment. He further declared: “We are confident that these efforts will not be permitted to succeed.” Baum called continued public opinion against the sentences and upcoming trials essential.

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