GENEVA (Nov. 20)
Five Jewish activists arrested yesterday for staging a sit-in at the office of Aeroflot, the Soviet airline, here were ordered freed by a Swiss magistrate today.
They had been charged with criminal trespass and damage to property. But the magistrate appointed to examine the case in a pre-trial hearing decided there was “no case” for the five to answer. Although he ordered their immediate release, they were kept in custody pending an appeal by the police against the court decision.
Soviet representatives did not press the charges, apparently to avoid additional publicity. The five, who spent last night in Geneva’s modern Champs Dollon prison, where, according to Swiss officials, they were provided with kosher food, were expected to be held until President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev end their summit meeting tomorrow and then expelled from Switzerland or allowed to leave voluntarily. The magistrate’s order to free them immediately came as a surprise.
THE FIVE INVOLVED IN THE SIT-IN
The five are Rabbi Avi Weiss of Riverdale, N.Y., chairman of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry; Moshe Ronen, president of the North American Jewish Student Network; David Makovsky, chairman of the World Union of Jewish Students; Steve Feuerstein, national coordinator of the Student Zionist Council; and Yosef Mendelevich, a former Soviet Jewish Prisoner of Conscience who presently lives in Israel.
Mendelevich who, according to some reports led the sit-in, served II years in a Soviet prison. He was one of the accused in the 1970 Leningrad plane hijack. He and the others sat on the floor of the Aeroflot office under a banner calling for freedom for Soviet Jews. They spread handbills urging the release of another long-term Jewish prisoner, Anatoly Shcharansky.
During the sit-in, prayers were chanted along with the Russian word for freedom, “Svoboda”, a word Reagan claimed recently did not exist in the Soviet vocabulary. Weiss blew a shofar.
SOVIET SPEAKERS HECKLED
Many more Jewish activists from the U.S., Israel and other countries, including former prisoners like Mendelevich, continued to protest the treatment of Soviet Jews despite a Swiss ban on public demonstrations during the summit meeting. They heckled Soviet speakers at press conferences, distributed leaflets and petitions and attempted, unsuccessfully, to present letters to Gorbachev and to his wife, Raisa.
Avital Shcharansky tried to hand a letter to Raisa Gorbachev asking for her husband’s release and the right of all Soviet Jews to emigrate. She appealed to her as “one woman to another” to intercede on behalf of Anatoly Shcharansky.
Meanwhile, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jewry of Washington, D.C., which opened a temporary office here for the duration of the summit, sent its own appeal to Reagan and Gorbachev not to avoid dealing with the issue of Jewish emigration from the USSR.
According to some observers, the pressure and heckling by Jewish activists has become so intense that Soviet officials have been forced to limit attendance at press conferences despite their desire for maximum media coverage.
Gorbachev will hold a press conference at the end of the summit tomorrow. But only 250 reporters will be admitted. The rest of the press corp will have to watch on closed circuit television.