NEW YORK (Feb. 19)
Soviet Jewish dissident Iosif Begun will receive an unconditional pardon and be released from Chistopol prison 10 a.m. Friday, local time, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry informed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Thursday.
Jerry Goodman, executive director of the NCSJ, said Begun’s wife, Inna was contacted Wednesday by Soviet Minister of Interior Aleksandr Vlasov. He said her husband’s release was official and that she could meet him at the prison. She will be accompanied by Begun’s son, Boris, Goodman said. He said his information came from NCSJ sources in Moscow.
Begun, a 54-year-old electrical engineer and mathematician was an activist for Jewish emigration rights, a long-time refusenik and a clandestine teacher of Hebrew, which is outlawed in the Soviet Union. In 1983, he was sentenced to seven years in prison and five years exile to Siberia for allegedly slandering the Soviet State.
SOVIET ANNOUNCEMENT THURSDAY
Soviet Foreign Minister Gennady Gerasimov announced in Moscow Thursday that Begun would be pardoned by decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the highest state body in the USSR, which pardoned more than 140 other dissidents including several Jews over the past week.
The NCSJ statement said: “This welcome action by the Soviet Union demonstrates that it is possible for that nation to treat its Jewish citizens as it does its other minorities, without such an action being perceived as a threat to Soviet society.
“As the Soviet Union has now demonstrated that it is possible to release a man who had been incarcerated because he sought to teach Hebrew and to pass on his heritage, we eagerly await the release of all the other Jewish Prisoners of Conscience. The world also awaits a firm decision to allow all Jews who with to do so to emigrate, as guaranteed by the Helsinki Accords and other international agreements, and as practiced in some other Soviet-bloc states.” The announcement of Begun’s pardon ended a week of agonizing suspense for his wife, family and friends. Last Sunday, Georgi Arbatov, a member of the Central Committee of the Supreme Soviet, said on the CBS “Face the Nation” television program that Begun had been freed.
The announcement followed a week-long demonstration in Moscow by Begun’s family and friends for his release, finally broken up by police who manhandled some of the demonstrators and Western reporters. Initially, there was elation over Arbatov’s statement because it came on the heels of the release of other dissidents. But on Monday, Chaim and Zelda Tepper, cousins of Begun’s in New York, said they spoke to Inna Begun in Moscow by telephone and received a message of despair.
They said Inna told them, “Bad news from the penal officials.” She said there was no statement from any source about her husband’s release and that she was told by the chief reception desk of the Interior Ministry that “they are not going to liberate him. Mr. Arbatov lied.”
On Tuesday, Soviet authorities announced that another dissident, Anatoly Koryagin, had been freed by decree, but that Begun remained in prison pending a decree approving his release. There were indications that it was being held up because Begun refused to sign the required statement that he would refrain from illegal activities in the future.”
But the announcement from Moscow Thursday said his pardon was unconditional.