Brezhnev Urged to Commute Death Sentences Against Four Jews

Amnesty International has cabled Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev appealing to him to commute the death sentences passed against four Jews in the Ukraine.

Two weeks ago the Ukrainian Republic’s Supreme Court upheld the death sentence passed on Aug. 28, 1978 by the Donetsk regional court against Rafael Adjiastivili, Elia Mikhailishvili, Gabriel Spiashvili and a Mr. Abassov. They were among 50 people convicted of stealing surplus textiles from a factory and selling them for private gain.

Amnesty International said the case highlighted the fact that Soviet citizens can be sentenced to death for crimes not involving violence. Under Soviet law the death penalty may be imposed for 18 different offences, including counterfeiting money, violating the rules for currency transactions, taking a bribe and stealing state property on a large scale.

The Soviet news media report approximately 25 to 30 death sentences every year. However, Amnesty International said the total number was almost certainly many times higher than that reported publicly. Soviet human rights activists have recently come out strongly against the continued use of the death penalty. Academician Andrei Sakharov has described it as “a savage and immoral institution which undermines the moral and legal foundations of the world”.

Amnesty International refrained from commenting on the fact that the four facing death penalties are Jews, and did not report the ethnic background of those given a lesser sentence. When news of the death sentences first broke, it reminded observers of the high proportion of Soviet Jews executed for so-called economic crimes during the Khrushchev period.

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