Russian human rights council to review Jewish teacher’s graft sentence

(JTA) — The Kremlin’s human rights council is reviewing the prison sentence meted out to Ilya Farber, a Jewish rural schoolteacher who was convicted of corruption.

The regional court of Ostashkov north of Moscow sentenced Farber last week to seven years in jail after convicting him of receiving $13,000 in bribes from a construction company in exchange for permission to renovate a culture club in Moshenka, a nearby village where Farber settled in 2010 and began to teach art to children.

Many Jews and non-Jews in Russia believe he did not receive a fair trial, partly because of his Jewish origins, according to Matvey Chlenov, the Russian Jewish Congress’ deputy executive director. To them, Farber’s case “is a symbol of the anti-Semitism and xenophobic nationalism that is growing in rural areas,” Chlenov told JTA.

The Russian Jewish Congress has collected $30,000 in hundreds of donations to help support Farber’s three young sons as he prepares to appeal the sentence, Chlenov added.

Alexander Brod, head of the Kremlin’s Human Rights Council – an advisory body – told the news site that he initiated a review of the case because he found the sentence to be “too harsh.”

The conviction last week came in a retrial. Farber was arrested in 2011 and convicted for the first time by a jury but a higher court scrapped the first conviction because of irregularities, including the judge’s instruction to the jury to “not to pay attention to the words of the defendant.”

Several people also testified that they heard the prosecutor in the first trial telling the jury: “Is it possible for a person with the last name Farber to help a village for free?” – a statement largely interpreted as referring to the fact that Farber is Jewish.

Farber was convicted of taking two bribes of $9,100 and $4,000 from the construction company Gosstroi-1 in exchange for permission to renovate a village club. Prosecutors said he signed off on the completed renovations when in fact none had been made.

Farber was a director at the club.

Chlenov says “it is obvious Farber acted naively and some locals set him up and dropped their corruption on him.”