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Five Orthodox Jews Arrested in Moscow Are Released After Being Defended by a Jewish Lawyer

Five young Orthodox Jews arrested in front of Moscow’s main synagogue on Simchat Torah were released Monday after being defended by a Jewish lawyer who lives in Paris and New York, according to press reports from Moscow. The lawyer, Samuel Pisar, who was in Moscow with a delegation of the American Jewish Congress, has had frequent dealings with the Soviet Union.

The five — identified as Sasha Lieberov, Sasha Zhukov, Vladimir Geyzel, Sasha Ilin and Konstan Alexeiev — were detained for disturbing the peace and each fined 50 Rubles, the equivalent of about $75. They had been arrested immediately after the departure of writer Elie Wiesel, who was in Moscow to arrange for Soviet participation in a conference on non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, to be held in Washington in February. While there, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient for 1986 also met with Soviet Jewish refuseniks. Wiesel had sought without success to meet with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov.

The Simchat Torah celebrations in Moscow draw a large crowd every year of Jews who do not otherwise attend synagogue, and it is the main Jewish event in the Soviet Union. On this occasion, Jews gather in front of the Choral Synagogue and sing and dance in the holiday’s tradition. The five who were arrested were involved in a “tussle,” according to the press. Pisar reportedly said two police cars drove slowly down the street to disperse noisy celebrants.

Pisar told the press that he was called upon in his hotel Monday morning by a group of Jews who asked him to go to the Kalinin Borough courthouse, where, the five were to appear. Pisar said that a crowd of about 100 relatives and friends of the defendants had gathered in front of the building. He told the press, that he wrote a note to court officials saying he was a lawyer familiar with Soviet law and offered his assistance.

Pisar said he was then invited to the judge’s chambers, where, he told the press, he explained that he had been present at the synagogue during the festivities and that the celebrations were expected on this particular holiday. Pisar said he was then permitted to attend the police proceedings on the case. Under Soviet law, police may administer minor penalties. Pisar described the Soviet magistrate as being polite as she questioned the five men and assessed the fines.

The arrests occurred as Konstantin Kharchev, chairmen of the Soviet Council of Religious Affairs, was visiting Simchat Torah celebrations in New York as the guest of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. In a press conference last week, Kharchev denied harassment of persons engaging in religious activities.

Of the confluence of events, Morris Abram, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, told JTA: “It belies all of the statements made by Mr. Kharchev that are designed to throw sand in our eyes and obscure the true facts. Mr. Kharchev’s mission is one of disinformation; the arrests are a Soviet reality.”

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