Maria Slepak, wife of a convicted Jewish activist Vladimir Slepak, was convicted yesterday of malicious hooliganism but unexpectedly was given a suspended sentence.
Slepak, 51, said the penalty of three years in a labor camp was suspended because of her age, the fact that she is a pensioner, and the lack of previous convictions.
Last week, her husband, began serving a five-year term in Siberian exile after conviction on the same charge.
The charges against the couple, who have been prevented from emigrating to Israel for eight years, stem from a protest they made last month from the balcony of their apartment on fashionable Gorky Street, a few blocks from the Kremlin. The two unfurled a large banner asking for exit visas and were arrested after police battered down their barricaded door.
Slepak, entered the court with a bag of winter clothes in anticipation of a conviction and exile to the remote interior. She emerged yesterday afternoon with tears streaming down her cheeks, to a small group of dissidents, Western correspondents and other Jews, who have been denied permission to emigrate.
The brief trial was closed to foreign press and representatives of the U.S. and British embassies, who were turned away by police Slepak said she refused to participate in the trial and maintained silence throughout the hearing. Fifteen prosecution witnesses were called against her she said. One witness, the apartment building manager, complained that she did not work, that the Slepaks kept a large dog and entertained foreigners and young people as well as Jews.
The prosecutor, who failed to persuade Slepak to speak at her trial, recommended the suspended sentence, in part because "she feels repentent and recognizes she has been bad."
Slepak said she told the court, filled with jeering spectators, "I refuse to take part in this process."
She said she thought her sentence had been suspended, "because we had many friends in the West."
Under its terms, she may live outside Moscow and will be permitted to join her husband in Siberia. She must return here twice a year to check in with authorities in order to keep her Moscow apartment. It is believed that if she were charged with any subsequent criminal violation, however minor, she would be sent immediately and without a court hearing to begin serving the three-year sentence in a "general regime" labor camp, the least severe of the four types of Soviet camps.
Her husband, son of a much-decorated Soviet revolutionary, received a telegram of support from Jimmy Carter when Carter was seeking the presidency in 1976. Slepak was a member of the Helsinki group, which seeks to monitor Soviet compliance with human rights guarantees in the 1975 Helsinki accord signed by the Kremlin.
He is one of 16 members of the Soviet Helsinki groups now serving exile or labor camp sentences. The convictions two weeks ago of Anatoly Sharansky and Alexander Ginzburg have provoked strong outcries in the West, and Carter has canceled computer and oil technology sales to the Soviet Union as well as high-level official visits.