WASHINGTON (Oct. 7)
Sen. Paul Tsongas (D. Mass.) was told by a Soviet Embassy official here that he would not receive a visa to go to the Soviet Union if his purpose was to visit Prisoner of Conscience Anatoly Shcharansky in the Chistipol Prison where the Jewish activist is conducting a hunger strike.
Tsongas said this is what he was told by Segey Chepverikov, a counselor at the Embassy, when he and Sens. John Heinz (R. Pa.) and Carl Levin (D. Mich.) met with the official for more than a half hour yesterday.
The three Senators went into the Embassy after a press conference was held across the street at which Avital Shcharansky said she fears for her husband’s life, noting that he was in very bad health when his mother, Ida Milgrom visited him last January. Soviet Embassy officials will not see Mrs. Shcharansky, Tsongas reported. She waited outside while the lawmakers were inside.
Shchoransky started his indefinite hunger strike September 27, Yom Kippur eve, because he has not been allowed to send or receive mail from his family or have family members visit him since his mother’s visit over eight months ago. Mrs. Milgrom said in Moscow last week that a long hunger strike would kill her son.
ATMOSPHERE NOT CONDUCIVE TO PROGRESS
Tsongas said that Chepverikov told the three Senators that the climate between the U.S. and USSR was very poor and that if this climate persists, it was “highly unlikely” that any progress will be made on this issue or any other. Tsongas said he stressed to the Embassy official that he and his two colleagues were not “rightwing anti-Soviet” Senators but were among those who sought an improvement in relations with the USSR.
Levin said he pointed out that one way to improve relations would be to release Shcharansky and others in similar situations, which could be seen as “a sign, a signal” from the Soviet Union. At the press conference, Heinz said Shcharansky was a “symbol” of the human rights struggle in the Soviet Union and because of this it was necessary not to forget the others who were in a similar situation.
Although the three Senators did not get to see Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin, Tsongas left a letter for the Soviet envoy “formally requesting a visa to go the Soviet Union and visit Anatoly Shcharansky in Chistipol Prison to determine for myself his mental and physical condition.”
He also urged Dobrynin “in the strongest terms possible” to allow Shcharansky contact with his family by mail and personal visits, to release him from prison, “and most importantly in accordance with the Final Act of the Helsinki Accords, to allow this courageous man to emigrate from the Soviet Union.”
The press conference at the Embassy was port of a four-day visit to Washington organized by the National Conference on Soviet Jewry. During that time Avital saw officials from the State Department and the National Security Council and members of Congress seeking help for her husband. She arrived in New York late yesterday and is scheduled to meet with Jeane Kirkpatrick, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.