Clergymen Launch Petition Drive Urging the USSR to Release Shcharansky

A group of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders have called on the Soviet Union to immediately release Anatoly Shcharansky, the Soviet Jewish activist, who has been held incommunicado in a Moscow prison since March. They also appealed to the Commandant of Camp Potma No. 1 to grant clemency to Edward Kuznetsov, the Soviet Jewish “Prisoner of Conscience” who is ill on the 18th day of his hunger strike.

The religious leaders helped launch a petition campaign on Shcharansky’s behalf. The petition demands that Shcharansky be granted his freedom so that he can rejoin his wife in Israel. The plea for Shcharansky and Kuznetsov was made at a news conference in front of Rockefeller Center, in Manhattan, amidst the traditional gaiety of New York’s holiday setting. The program and the petition drive were coordinated by the Greater New York Conference on Soviet Jewry.

Noting that Shcharansky may face up to six more months in prison–even though no formal charges have been filed against him–the clergymen criticized the USSR for its “inhumane treatment” of the activist. They said that imprisonment under these conditions violates all the human right provisions of the Helsinki Accord, to which the Soviet Union is a signatory.

In its petition, the Conference pointed out that not only has Shcharansky been held for nine months without formal charges, but he has been denied legal counsel and visitation rights. The Conference is seeking 100,000 names on the petitions, which it said, will be sent to Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev in Moscow and to Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin in Washington.

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