Menu JTA Search

Leningrad Hebrew Teacher Sentenced to Three Years in a Labor Camp

Roald Zelichonok, a 49-year-old Hebrew teacher from Leningrad who has sought to emigrate to Israel since 1979, has been sentenced to three years in a labor camp on charges of allegedly “defaming the Soviet state and social system,” it was reported here by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ).

Material cited as evidence in the case against Zelichonok included an interview he had given to a Canadian tourist, as well as “letters written to policy makers in the West” which contained information about the Soviet Union.

The one-day trial last Thursday, during which Zelichonok was permitted to speak freely with his wife, Galina, and his friend, Vladimir Lifshits, was termed by the NCSJ as “surprisingly liberal and democratic” as compared with the usual Soviet legal proceedings. However, the purpose of the three-year sentence was apparently meant to intimidate Jewish activists, and to convince them that speaking out to the West does not pay off, the NCSJ said.

Only days before his arrest, Zelichonok had issued critical public statements to the Deputy Director of the Leningrad Post Office and the Head of the Foreign Relations Department at the USSR Ministry of Communications. In a detailed account, he called the persistent Soviet interference with his mail a “very grave violation of internal and international law.”

Among the letters used as a pretext against Zelichonok is one addressed to Israel’s President Chaim Herzog. Asked during the pre-trial investigation how one’s private letters can be used as evidence against him, the Leningrad Deputy Procurator responded that “writing to a friend may be private, but not so writing to the President of Israel.”

Zelichonok is the eighth Soviet Jewish He brew teacher to be imprisoned since June 1984 in an ongoing crackdown which the U.S. State Department had condemend as “a tragic and needless obstacle to constructive relations between the U.S. and the USSR.”

NEXT STORY