WASHINGTON (Jun. 14)
In spite of the searing heat, dozens of Congressmen gathered today along with human rights activists and clergymen on the steps of the U.S. Capitol to demonstrate their opposition to the Soviet Union’s harassment and repression of Soviet Jews and other minorities there.
In all, some 300 people participated in the second annual Congressional Fast and Prayer Vigil for Soviet Jewry. Congressional members fasted from sunup to sundown and participated in the one hour vigil on the Capitol steps.
The demonstration, one of the largest Congressional protests in support of Soviet Jewry ever held, was sponsored by Reps. John Porter (R. III.), Robert Mrazek (D. N. Y.), and Jack Kemp (R.N. Y.) and Sens. Carl Levin (D. Mich.) and John Heinz (R. Pa.); and Rep. Tom Lantos (D. S. Cal.).
Rather than being a mass demonstration, the vigil was planned to focus on the Congressional role in support of Soviet Jewry. It was staged on the 14th anniversary of the notorious Lenigrad trials and commemorated those trials during which II Soviet dissidents, including nine Jewish refuseniks, were tried and imprisoned in a case that focused international attention on Soviet human rights violations.
SOVIET JEWS CALLED ‘INTERNATIONAL PAWNS’
“For the past several years, Soviet Jews have become undeserving pawns in the international battle of wills,” Mrazek declared. “As relations have chilled the souls of innocent men, women and children are frozen. The ability of this body to help change this tragic reality is beyond question and it is our responsibility to exact this change.”
Each congressional member adopted a refusenik for the day and will write to this person during the year, write to Soviet officials about the refusenik’s case and help them otherwise to obtain their release from the Soviet Union. Since last year’s Congressional Prayer and Vigil, about six refuseniks adopted by the Congressional members have been allowed to emigrate from the Soviet Union.
“It is sometimes hard for those so familiar with freedom to imagine life without it.” Porter declared. “You can describe the freedoms we take for granted as something analogous to the food we eat. We take for granted our right to eat daily, yet by fasting today, we feel something of what it might be like to live as a freedom starved Jew in the Soviet Union.”
Lynn Singer, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, thanked the Congress “for its continued vigilance and active participation for the human rights of Soviet Jews … all righteous people pray for the survival of Soviet refuseniks and prisoners of conscience with the hope that they will one day be able to join their fellow Jews in the world.”
President Reagan, in a message sent to the vigil, said the repressive policies of the Soviet authorities, “violates the standards of behavior which are incumbent upon all governments and are enshrined in international covenants. All Americans should join in the prayerful efforts to support those struggling to exercise their fundamental rights. We will continue to seek opportunities to encourage the Soviet Union to respect the human rights and to restore the individual dignity of Soviet Jews.”
Lantos, speaking at a news conference prior to the vigil at the capitol, said “all of us are here today because we are determined not to turn away as the systematic government-sponsored persecution of Soviet Jews is reaching a crescendo.” Lantos was fasting for his adopted Soviet refusenik. Yelena Banner, the wife of Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.
The Rev. Robert Drinan, a former Massachusetts Democratic Representative, told the new conference that he hoped the former flow of Soviet Jewish emigration would be resumed and said, “my hope is deepened today because I see Congress once again doing what they have been doing very well for a long time on a totally non-partisan basis–saying that we have a crusade to liberate Soviet Jews….”