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Toth: Charge of Treason Against Sharansky is ‘a Lot of Baloney’

Robert C. Toth, who recently returned to the United States after three years as the Moscow bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, said today that Soviet officials do not realize the depth of support for Jewish activist Anatoly Sharansky in the U.S., especially among American Jews. He said that if the USSR carries out its threat to try Sharansky for treason and espionage “they will turn him into the first Jewish martyr in the Soviet Union since the Stalin era.”

Toth, who was questioned for nearly 14 hours by the KGB on charges of collecting secret political and military information and later about Sharansky, answered questions about his experiences to more than 100 persons in the auditorium of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation League headquarters. The meeting was sponsored by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and was attended by newsmen and members of the Conference and chaired by Eugene Gold, Conference chairman, and Jerry Goodman, its executive director.

Calling Sharansky a “marvelous person,” Toth said the Jewish activist’s “only purpose was to get out and help other Jews to get out of the Soviet Union (and go to Israel). All this nonsense about espionage and treason was just a lot of baloney.”

SAYS SHARANSKY ACTED LEGALLY

He said that everything Sharansky did was legal and aimed at helping himself and other Jews emigrate to Israel. Toth said that all of his dealings with Sharansky were held out in the open as were Sharansky’s meetings with other Western correspondents.

Toth said when he was first arrested by the KGB it was on a charge of illegally obtaining a document on parapsychology. He said the KBG first said he was questioned on the charge of collecting secret information but later the questioning turned to Sharansky and other Jewish activists and Soviet dissidents.

The newsman, whose next assignment will be in Washington, said he had expected to be held for at least a month. But he believed the public reaction by the American press and government as well as the strong pressure by the U.S. government convinced the Soviets to let him go.

While acknowledging that his interrogation may worry Western correspondents still in Moscow, he said he believes they will be more aggressive now because they are angry. At the same time, he said the dissidents and Jewish activists, while still able to meet with correspondents, will have less latitude and will be more easily subject to arrest.

Toth said the Soviets are not so much concerned about the information given newsmen concerning the dissident and emigration movements but about information dealing with general conditions in the USSR which correspondents learn from the dissidents and Jewish activists. He noted that all unofficial information is considered illegal in the USSR. The newsman said the “outrageous” behavior of the Soviet authorities has resulted in a climate in the United States in which the Jackson Amendment could not be repealed. He expressed doubts that Congress would approve at present a SALT agreement if one was reached.

Toth observed that the Soviet Union’s crackdown on dissidents and Jewish activists is partially based on President Carter’s strong advocacy of human rights in the USSR. He said it may also be due to a belief that by cracking down on dissidents in the USSR it will discourage the rising number of dissidents in the East European countries. Toth said that the USSR may be willing to see a year or two setback in detente caused by its actions against dissidents rather than see a much longer setback caused by its sending tanks into East Europe to end dissension there.

(By David Friedman)

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