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Soviet Jewry Activist Groups Shocked over Death of Marchenko

December 12, 1986
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

International Human Rights Day was marked here Wednesday by protests against continued Soviet persecution of dissidents and the continuing difficulties refuseniks face in trying to obtain exit visas.

The temperature of the protests was raised by reports that one of the best known Soviet political dissidents, Anatoly Marchenko, had died in the notorious Chistopol prison in the Tartar Republic while serving a 10-year term for “anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda.” He was 48 years old.

His Jewish wife, Larissa Bogoraz, whom he met while both were serving internal exile terms in Siberia, told reporters in Moscow that she had received a telegram Tuesday from the prison warden saying that her husband had died in a hospital. The telegram gave no date nor cause of death. On November 21, Bogoraz was summoned by security police and told to apply for the family to emigrate. She and Marchenko have a 12-year-old son, Pavel.

Bogoraz said the last letter she received from her husband was dated November 28, asking that she send a food parcel. The request indicated that Marchenko has abandoned a hunger strike he began August 4 to protest his treatment in prison, where Anatoly Shcharansky had also been incarcerated. Two weeks ago Bogoraz said a KGB officer told her that her husband was “feeling wonderful.” She added that she had heard the authorities were force-feeding him.


Marchenko, a Ukrainian non-Jew, had spent a total of 20 years in Soviet prisons since first being arrested in 1960. Following his first six-year incarceration, he wrote “My Testimony,” a panoramic description of Soviet prison life which became a best-seller in the West.

In 1968, during one of his periods out of prison, he spoke up in defense of a group of Soviet youths who had been arrested for protesting against the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.

In 1981, having spent 15 years in prisons and labor camps, Marchenko was given a 10-year sentence for anti-Soviet agitation. It resulted from his membership in the Helsinki monitoring group, established to record Soviet compliance with the Helsinki human rights agreements.

Shcharansky and Yuri Orlov were his colleagues in the Helsinki monitoring group. Both have been permitted to emigrate after lengthy terms in captivity.

Marchenko’s death leaves Nobel Laureate Andrei Sakharov as the last prominent human rights fighter still visibly victimized by the Soviet authorities. However, many lesser known activists are fast coming to the fore.

Some 26 Jewish refuseniks are currently. in prison or labor camps; 25 more have served time on charges of “slander” or malicious hooliganism; and some 10,000 others undergoing various forms of pressure still wait for exit visas.


(In New York City, two Soviet Jewry groups paid tribute to Marchenko. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said that he was “an inspiration to all freedom-loving people. He was a foremost activist for human dignity and freedom. To his last breath, he protested the Soviet assault on human rights.” The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry said that Marchenko was “one of the USSR’s leading activists….His death came after numerous persecutions which he protested by hunger strikes.”)

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