Azernikov Trial Open to Public; Sharp Departure from Previous Trials

The trial of Boris Azernikov which opened in Leningrad yesterday marked a sharp departure from previous political trials of Soviet Jews. It was open to the public and the Criminal Court was packed with friends and supporters of the 26-year-old Jewish dentist, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency learned from Jewish sources in Leningrad today. Two defendants convicted in the second Leningrad trial, Hillel Butman and Michael Korenblit, testified in favor of Azernikov though both had been brought from labor camps by the prosecution which intended to use them to incriminate the accused. Azernikov is charged with anti-Soviet activities and membership in anti-Soviet organizations, criminal offenses under Articles 70-72 of the Soviet penal code.

The charges stemmed from a search of Azernikov’s flat by KGB (secret police) agents last August who found a book of poems by Bialik, a Hebrew calendar and a copy of a letter by a group of Jews protesting the denial of exit visas. Azernikov was one of the signers of the letter. Testifying in his defense, Azernikov freely admitted possession of these items. But he contended that this could not possibly be construed as anti-Soviet activities nor could any of his associations be construed as membership in anti-Soviet organizations. He said it was no crime to own a book of Hebrew poems or to keep a calendar of Jewish holidays. Nor, he said, was it a crime to sign a collective letter with other Soviet citizens in a matter of public interest, or in an attempt to right a wrong. The trial was expected to end today.

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