NEW YORK (Nov. 16)
Soviet authorities have unexpectedly released two Jewish activists who were facing prison terms of up to five years for their part in demonstrations by Moscow Jews last month to demand to know why they have been denied exit visas. Boris Chernobilsky and Dr. losif Ahs, who were to stand trial shortly on charges of “malicious hooliganism,” were told by Soviet authorities that they were being freed because it was their first offense and because both are family men.
The National Conference on Soviet Jewry called the move “unprecedented” and reported today that it was “greeted with amazement by other Jewish activists who said they could not remember a previous incident where criminal charges did not ultimately result in conviction and imprisonment.”
According to the NCSJ, veteran activist Vladimir Slepak attributed the Soviet action to pressure from the United States. NCSJ chairman Eugene Gold said the release was welcomed and added, “We are glad the Soviet authorities dropped the unwarranted charges against the two Soviet Jews whose only wish is to emigrate to Israel.”
The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry expressed a “sense of vindication once again of the efficacy of pressure.” However, an SSSJ spokesman said, “We must not let this victory make us forget that we’re merely back to square one.” The spokesman noted that of the 52 Jews who demonstrated for visas, only one has received permission to emigrate. “The Soviets are making a play to obtain the good graces of the incoming Carter Administration,” the SSSJ said.