Harassment of American Visitors Charged in Lawsuit Against Soviet Travel Agency

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry, 38 of its member agencies and 14 individuals, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Soviet Union’s travel agency, Intourist, for violating New York State’s consumer protection law.

The suit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, charges Intourist with “illegal, fraudulent and misleading promotional activities” such as failing to disclose that American tourists who plan to visit with Soviet Jews–particularly Soviet Jews who wish to leave the USSR–run a high risk of being harassed by Soviet agents.

The harassment is alleged to be officially sanctioned and implemented by the Soviet government. Strip and body cavity searches, interrogation, confiscation of personal property, and expulsion from the USSR are some of the incidents which are alleged to be part of a pattern of harassment.

A court order is sought by the National Conference and other plaintiffs requiring Intourist to disclose fully in its literature that certain categories of tourists are likely to be subjected to detainment, searches, interrogation, and/or confiscation of personal property.

DETAILS OF COMPLAINT

Herbert Teitelbaum, attorney for the plaintiffs said, “Intourist’s promotional activities–including its literature and other promotional materials–are designed to, and otherwise create, a false and misleading impression that so long as tourists to the USSR obey Soviet law, they will not be subjected to various forms of government harassment.

“The complaint charges that this is absolutely not true for those tourists who express an interest in the human rights of Soviet Jews and who wish to visit with Soviet Jewish families,” Teitelbaum said. He added, while the Soviet Union may be permitted to ignore the “rule of law in other contexts, it is obligated to abide by the consumer protection law which requires fair dealing and full disclosure. In short, Intourist must tell a tourist what he can anticipate when he visits the Soviet Union.”

According to the complaint each of the individual plaintiffs named are American citizens who have traveled to the Soviet Union on tours booked under the auspices of Intourist. Each of the plaintiffs was subjected either to a partial strip search, detention, harassment, confiscation of possessions, or fined, without justification while in the Soviet Union, Teitelbaum charged.

He said “Some of the plaintiffs were actually arrested by Soviet authorities and charged with espionage and robbery. In some cases, plaintiffs were forceably interviewed and photographed for propaganda purposes, detained under house arrest, denied permission to contact the American Embassy, and forced to sign documents written in Russian which they could not understand and which were not translated for them,” he said.

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