NEW YORK (Feb. 19)
Natan Sharansky, his wife Avital and his 79-year-old mother Ida Milgrom stood in a cage in front of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations here Thursday, calling for freedom for Soviet Jewish dissident Iosif Begun and demanding free emigration for all Soviet Jews who want to leave.
Sharansky and his family arrived at the demonstration shortly after their direct flight from Israel landed. They joined about 40 demonstrators who were carrying posters of Begun and chanting repeatedly, “Free Begun now.” Almost as many reporters were on hand.
The demonstration, which was scheduled to last until Saturday, was organized by the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ).
Sharansky said that he was aware of reports that Begun was about to be released from prison, but he noted that Begun was still not free as long as he was denied the right to emigrate.
Begun has been in the Soviets’ Chistopol Prison since 1983 for allegedly slandering the state. However, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ) confirmed reports from Moscow Thursday that Begun has been pardoned and is about to be released. Sharansky told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he and his wife decided to join the demonstration after Avital spoke on the telephone with Begun’s wife Inna. “We decided to come here and demonstrate for Begun and for all Soviet Jews, 382,000 of them who are waiting for exit visas to leave the Soviet Union,” Sharansky said.
In a statement at the demonstration, Avital Sharansky declared: “My family arrived in New York to inaugurate a protest for the release of all Prisoners of Zion and the free emigration of all Soviet Jews. Today the protest focuses on Iosif Begun.”
Natan Sharansky said that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is attempting to win public support in the West by drawing attention to Soviet gestures to prominent dissidents while the situation of Soviet Jewry at large remains grim. He called for continued, open pressure on the USSR to ease the plight of Soviet Jewry.
After answering reporters’ questions, Milgrom and Avital Sharansky marched toward the gates of the Soviet Mission carrying a poster of Begun. A worker at the Mission came out and received the poster from them without making any comment.
After an hour in the cage — the one said to be used by Avital Sharansky when she previously demonstrated on behalf of her husband when he was imprisoned — the family left to attend to their newborn daughter and escape the freezing cold. They said they will demonstrate all day Thursday and Friday.