Charny Case Highlighted by Mass. Attorney General
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Charny Case Highlighted by Mass. Attorney General

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The Attorney General of Massachusetts, James Shannon, has added his voice to that of a host of Massachusetts lawmakers, religious and communal figures in asking the Soviets to permit the emigration of cancer patient Benjamin Charny of Moscow, whose brother Leon lives in Needham, Mass.

Shannon held a meeting in his Boston office several days ago at which he initiated an effort to make the Charny case a priority with attorneys general across the country, according to the New England regional office of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which has been instrumental in efforts on behalf of Charny. Shannon said he will urge a representative group of U.S. attorneys general who will be traveling to the Soviet Union in October to raise the Charny case in specific, and human rights in general, with prosecutors general there.

Benjamin Charny, an eight-year refusenik, suffers from malignant melanoma (skin cancer), as well as neck and thyroid tumors which Soviet oncologists agree cannot be surgically treated because of severe heart failure and chronic hypertension.


Appraisal of his condition by a Montreal oncologist, Gerald Batist, who saw Charny last year in Moscow, has lent credence to the belief that Charny could avail himself of advanced medical techniques available in the West. The New England Medical Center in Boston has had a longstanding offer to treat Charny free of charge if only he would be allowed to emigrate.

The 49-year-old mathematician is unable to work because of his medical condition and because of his refusenik status, accorded him in 1979 by virtue of knowledge of “state secrets.” His published papers on mathematical formulas have long been part of the general international mathematical literature and reveal no secrets, says Leon, 34, who emigrated in 1979 just weeks before his brother’s cancer was diagnosed. Benjamin has been a father figure to Leon since the early deaths of their parents.

The younger Charny, a doctoral student in computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been pleading his brother’s case vigorously. In May, he stood solitary vigil in front of the Soviet Embassy in Washington. He was joined in his demonstration one afternoon by several members of Congress. At that time, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D. Mass.) circulated a petition in Congress that was signed by virtually all lawmakers present, asking the Soviets to allow Benjamin to emigrate.

Leon has also appeared with Batist in front of Congressional committees on health to discuss his brother’s case as well as that of other cancer patients in light of a U.S.-Soviet cancer research agreement on the books but not in practice.

The cancer refusenik’s case has also been championed by the Junior Sen. from Massachusetts, John Kerry (D.), as well as Rep. Joseph Kennedy Jr. (D. Mass.), Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D. Texas), who was in Moscow earlier this year; by Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis (D.) and his wife Kitty, who works personally on behalf of Soviet Jewry; by Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston, and by the entire New England ADL office under the helm of regional director Leonard Zakim, who urged the attorney general’s attention to the Charny case.

Shannon, a key supporter of a resolution drafted at the June 1987 meeting of the National Association of Attorneys General, titled “Legal Exchanges with the USSR–Human Rights Statement,” has reportedly also agreed to contact the president of the Association of Soviet Lawyers (ASL) to personally request the latter’s intervention in the case as demonstration of the ASL’s stated commitment to human rights.

In 1985, the American Bar Association (ABA) entered into a “declaration of cooperation” with the ASL to promote the development of international law for “peace and human rights through law,” which was reaffirmed last month at the ABA’s annual convention in San Francisco despite arguments against the agreement by a special task force formed to oppose U.S.-Soviet legal ties and by Soviet Jewry activists.

Shannon, who as a Congressman visited the USSR in January 1982, is also asking the ABA itself to join with him in seeking Charny’s emigration. This week, the ABA sent a delegation to the USSR to meet with the ASL.

Earlier this month, Benjamin’s daughter, Anna Blank, and her husband, Yuri, and two-month-old daughter, Sima, received permission to emigrate. They applied to emigrate with Anna’s parents Benjamin and Yadwiga in 1979 and individually in ’83.

The Blanks are reluctant to leave the Charnys behind, fearing Benjamin’s medical condition and a repeat of the situation in 1979 when Leon emigrated, believing his brother and family would be joining him shortly. Earlier this year, Benjamin was told by OVIR authorities “not to bother them” until 1995.

At last week’s meeting, attention was also drawn to other cancer patient refuseniks: Sophia Bravve, 38, who suffers from cancer of the thyroid gland, and whose sister-in-law, Rimma Bravve, died of metasthetized ovarian cancer in July in Rochester, NY. Sophia received permission but her parents, both ill, have not. Naum Meiman, 76, former dissident, has been diagnosed as having leukemia. His wife, Inna, who was a cancer patient refusenik, died in February in Washington. The Soviets would not let her husband accompany her.

Other cancer patients requesting permission to emigrate include Mariana Simantova, Boris Furman, Fayima Kogan and Eduard Ehrlich, 8.

Charny was among a group of five original cancer patient refuseniks organized in Moscow and publicized in the West by Batist in Montreal as the International Cancer Patients Solidarity Committee. Of the five, Tatyana Bogomolny is now in San Francisco, and the other three Bravve, Meiman, and Lea Maryasina–died in the West after long waits for their visas that delayed their treatment.

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