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Philadelphia Court of Public Opinion Finds Shcharansky Innocent

July 12, 1978
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Anatoly Shcharansky was found innocent by a Philadelphia Court of Public Opinion. The symbolic courtroom trial, scheduled to parallel the actual trial in the Soviet Union of human rights activist and refusnik Anatoly Shcharansky, was held yesterday at City Hall. Approximately 300 people observed the proceedings.

Philadelphians of all faiths found Anatoly Shcharansky, 30-year-old Moscow computer tech nician, innocent of all charges and urged that he should be allowed to emigrate to Israel. “Presiding Judge,” Edward Rosenberg–in reality a Philadelphia Common Pleas judge–said, “The jury and I have concluded that, based on the testimony presented, the Soviet Union has denied Anatoly Shcharansky his fundamental human rights.”

At the same time, the “jurors”–consisting of real-life judges, business, labor, community, Christian and Jewish religious and lay leaders–found the Soviet Union guilty of gross violations of human rights, and of violating its own laws and international agreements to which it is a signatory.

The proceedings were convened by the Soviet Jewry Council of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia (JCRC). The group had invited Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, or a Soviet representative, to appear at the proceedings to explain the policies of the Soviet government in the Shcharansky case. Neither Dobrynin nor a Soviet representative answered the call to testify.


Connie Smukler, who visited the Soviet Union three times and became a friend of Shcharansky’s, attested to his character. She said Shcharansky’s “honesty and decency endeared him to all ….I unqualifiedly add my voice to hundreds of others around the world who…vouch for his innocence….” Mrs. Smukler is a member of the Philadelphia Soviet Jewry Council.

Sister Gloria Coleman, chairperson of the Interreligious Task Force on Soviet Jewry, testified that Shcharansky “fought for Soviet adherence to the human rights principles by which all nations must abide. In addition, he has pushed for an open emigration policy for Soviet Jews and other minorities.”

She noted, “the horrors of the Holocaust taught us all, Jew and non-Jew alike, that it is unconscionable to stand by while innocents suffer discrimination at the hands of dictators. It is hard for me to understand the perversity which causes governments to deny basic rights. But the pages of history of mankind are sullied by repeated incidents of man’s inhumanity to man.”

One of the last Americans to visit Shcharansky before his arrest on March 15,1977, was Philadelphian Dr. Bernard Dishler, co-chairman of the Soviet Jewry Council of JCRC. “Wherever we went, he was literally followed by eight KGB (secret police) agents….Soviet authorities conducted a six-hour search in his elderly parents’ apartment in the hope of finding foreign currency and classified material. They found nothing….Within days of my leaving the Soviet Union, Shcharansky was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in Lefortovo Prison.” The imprisonment has lasted 16 months.

“Defense Attorney” Jules Lippert, co-chairman of the Soviet Jewry Council of JCRC, said, “We have proved our case beyond a shadow of a doubt. Shcharansky is innocent. The Soviet Union has abused his rights and violated its own statutes and international agreements. They should let him go to Israel to join his wife, Avital.”

“Judge” Rosenberg concluded, “Justice Brandeis once said, ‘Sunlight is the strongest disinfectant,’ and that’s what this trial has tried to do–shed light on one man’s innocence.” Reflecting for a moment he added, “Unfortunately, this was a symbolic trial. While the Soviets cannot ignore world public opinion, I don’t think they’re going to come to the same conclusion we did in the real trial.”


In other developments across the country, a group of 88 elected officials throughout Colorado, the Colorado Elected Officials of Concern for Soviet Jewry, expressed its deep concern for Soviet Jews who seek to emigrate but have been denied the right to do so by Soviet officials. The case of Shcharansky “is a clear symbol of the reason for our concern,” the group said in a statement issued yesterday. The statement was signed by Dale Tooley, Denver District Attorney, and State Senator Dennis Callaghan, co-chairmen of the group.

In New York, more than 100 people assembled yesterday at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations in a “Vigil of Anger” for Shcharansky. The I 1/2-hour vigil was sponsored by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. The participants, singing and shouting, formed a picket line extending along 66th Street, a half block away from the Mission, which was surrounded by police.

A group from the Jewish Defense League held a separate demonstration at the Mission, chanting slogans such as “Death to the Russian Pigs,” and waving banners reading “Hitler Dead; Brezhnev Now.” Danny Gotlieb, of the JDL, declared, “If Shcharansky receives the death sentence…we’ll be back again and again and again.” Members of the SSSJ continued their “Vigil of Anger” today at Aeroflot Airlines offices. They held signs reading “Will An Innocent Man Be Executed?” and chanted “The Kremlin is on Trial Today.” In Washington, some 300 people conducted a vigil opposite the Soviet Embassy.

Meanwhile, both Houses of Congress have been asked by Israel’s Knesset to do whatever they can to halt the “travesty of justice” perpetrated by the Soviet government in the Shcharansky trial. The “urgent” appeal for support of Shcharansky was in two letters from Knesset Speaker Yitzhak Shamir to Vice President Walter Mondale who presides over the Senate and House Speaker Thomas O’Neill (D.Mass.). The letters were delivered yesterday to Mondale and O’Neill by the Israel Embassy.

Jewish leaders and organizations continued today to denounce the trials of Shcharansky and Alexander Ginzberg and to call upon President Carter to use his offices to help Shcharansky and Ginzberg. These included Burton M. Joseph, chairman, Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith; Toby Willig, president, Emunah Women of America; Hans Morgenthau, chairman, Academic Committee on Soviet Jewry; Bernard Backer, president, Workmen’s Circle; Simon Schwartz, president, and Rabbi Benjamin Z. Kreitman, executive vice-president, United Synagogue of America; and the United Hebrew Trades.

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