NEW YORK (Feb. 16)
Relatives of Iosif Begun in Moscow still had no word on his rumored release when contacted Monday afternoon, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry reported Monday.
Chaim and Zelda Tepper, cousins of Begun’s in New York, who spoke with Begun’s wife Inna in Moscow Monday, said they received the following message from Inna:
“Bad news from the penal officials. There is no statement about Iosef’s liberation, not at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, not in Chistopol prison (where Begun is imprisoned). He is still in Chistopol. Mr. Arbatov told a lie. My husband has not been released and they are not going to liberate him. I have this from the chief reception desk of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.”
Georgi Arbatov, a Soviet Central Committee member, said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Begun had been freed. The announcement followed a week-long demonstration in Moscow by Begun’s family and friends to rally for his release.
Jacob Birnbaum, director of the Center for Russian Jewry and of SSSJ, said the announcement was probably intended to diffuse an “enormously embarrassing situation” for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The demonstrations in Moscow on behalf of Begun ended in violence and coincided with an international peace conference called by Gorbachev in Moscow.
The announcement of Begun’s release may have been simply a propaganda ploy to case criticism, Birnbaum said. But it is also possible that Gorbachev gave Arbatov the information on the release which has not yet trickled to the lower echelons of the prison system or the Internal Affairs Ministry. Begun’s son Boris was scheduled to begin a 15-day prison sentence Monday for heading up last week’s demonstrations, SSSJ reported.
DEMONSTRATIONS IN THE U.S. AND ISRAEL
In at least two U.S. cities Monday, Soviet Jewry activists demonstrated on Begun’s behalf. In New York, a group undaunted by freezing temperatures gathered outside the Soviet Mission to the United Nations. A similar protest was staged at the San Francisco Soviet Consul by the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jewry.
Six of Begun’s relatives, New York City Councilman Noach Deer and seven others were arrested for disorderly conduct when they attempted to march to the gates of the Soviet Mission. The protesters, blocked by police, sat down in the street in front of the Mission and then were arrested. About 100 people turned out for the demonstration.
Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, six people demonstrating on Begun’s behalf chained themselves to railings outside the Prime Minister’s office Sunday. Police forcibly removed the demonstrators, who represented the Soviet Jewry Information Center in Jerusalem, headed by former Soviet Jewish prisoner Yosef Mendelevich.
Speakers at the rally excoriated the Israeli government for what they called a failure to express public support for the daily demonstrations in Moscow last week by Begun’s family and friends.
Another rally was held opposite the Finnish Embassy in Tel Aviv by the Public Council for Soviet Jewry. Finland represents Soviet interests in Israel.