(JTA) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said a court in Tver may have acted “egregiously” in sentencing a Jewish rural teacher to seven years in jail for taking $13,000 in bribes.
The case of the teacher, Ilya Farber, “is, of course, egregious,” Putin said during an interview with Russia’s Channel 1.
It is Putin’s first public statement about the publicized trial of Farber, an artist who was convicted and sentenced last month for taking the bribes from a building contractor in Tver, located halfway between Moscow and St. Petersburg. Farber has denied the charges and filed an appeal Tuesday, according to the Russian news agency Regnum.
Russia’s Human Rights Council — an advisory board — also is reviewing a prison sentence meted out to Ilya Farber.
The sentence, which was handed down in a retrial following irregularities during the initial procedure, was presented by opposition leaders as indicative of inequality before the law in Russia, where defendants with powerful connections are seen as enjoying more lenient treatment.
“There are certain sanctions available to the judge. There may be different assessments as to the danger posed to society. Bribe is more socially dangerous crime than theft. This is an obvious thing. But there can be mistakes,” Putin said in the interview.
The case of Farber, 39, has prompted public statements by Alexei Navalny, Russia’s leading opposition leader, who criticized the relatively harsh sentence. Dmitry Bykov, a Russian novelist and prominent journalist, wrote that his trial was comparable to that of Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jewish army captain whose wrongful conviction in 1894 of spying for Germany sparked an outcry over anti-Semitism in France and Western Europe.
The prosecutor in Farber’s first trial, Pavel Vereshchagin, reportedly told the jury: “How could a man named Farber voluntarily help villagers?” Vereshchagin, who has since been made a judge, denies making the comment, which was widely interpreted as a reference to Farber’s Jewish origins.