WASHINGTON (Aug. 14)
The State Department has charged that Soviet authorities have made a false drug charge against an imprisoned Soviet Jewish refusenik and has called this “disturbingly reminiscent of the Stalin era.”
State Department John Hughes read a strong statement last Friday in defense of Lev Elbert, a 35-year-old Kiev civil engineer, who was convicted in May of evasion of reserve military service. Elbert has been refused permission to emigrate to Israel since 1976 because of his military service during 1973-75 which, according to the Union of Councils of Soviet Jews (UCSJ), was spent mostly digging ditches.
In early July, while being transferred to a new prison camp, Elbert was accused of having sewn a bag of hashish into his undershirt and was charged with “possession of drugs for personal use,” which carries a three-year sentence. He was placed in a cell with common criminals for five days but was transferred to a regular cell after staging a hunger strike. He was then allowed to see his wife, Inna, their 13-year-old son, and his father.
Meanwhile, according to the UCSJ, Elbert’s wife began a hunger strike August 1 to demand that Soviet authorities drop the drug charge. Earlier reports stated that the authorities had found drugs in a pocket of a coat that had been purchased for Elbert in Kiev and smuggled into the prison camp. There was no clear explanation of who purchased the coat and who had smuggled the coat into the camp and who had placed the drugs inside one of the coat’s pockets.
TYPICAL OF STALINIST ERA
“Based on the reports we have received, we find the narcotic charges against Mr. Elbert unconvincing,” Hughes said. “Elbert has no history of drug abuse, and has no reason to risk worsening his situation by attempting to smuggle hashish into a prison camp.”
Hughes said that “this incident is disturbingly reminiscent of practices seen in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era in which a prisoner’s sentence was commonly compounded by additional falsified charges against him, and in which certain prisoners were singled out for especially repressive treatment so that they might serve as ‘examples’ to others. We condemn this latest move against Elbert, and call upon the Soviet authorities to see that he is not further victimized by such implausible accusation.”