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Canadian Scholar Expelled from USSR

August 23, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Irwin Cotler, a McGill University law-professor who was expelled from the Soviet Union Sunday, arrived in Montreal last night to a hero’s welcome. In a brief statement, Cotler said “I need time to consider the whole thing.” But he said he intended to continue fighting for the release of Anatoly Shcharansky. The 31-year-old Prisoner of Conscience is serving a 13-year term on treason charges. Cotler has the power of attorney, from Shcharansky’s wife to act in the case.

Cotler, who was attending the 11th International Political Science Congress in Moscow which ended just before his arrest, said he had received permission from Soviet officials for a 45-kilometer trip to the Moscow suburb of Istra with Prof. Alexander Lerner, a prominent Jewish dissident and long-time refusnik. The purpose of the visit was to attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of Shcharansky’s parents.

Cotler said the reason he was given for his arrest and expulsion — “I was give just five minutes to pack ” — was that he had Violated local travel regulations. But he said he suspected it would have happened anyway, “even if I had been sitting in my hotel room in Moscow. We were stopped by the Soviet militia during the drive and were taken into the militia center whereupon the interrogation began. I asked that the Canadian Embassy be called and I was refused. I asked the Embassy at least be advised of the interrogation and I was again refused. He said he then asked to be allowed to make a telephone call to a journalist and this also was refused.

“I was then presented with a protocol which had already been prepared alleging that I had violated the local travel refutations for foreigners in the Soviet Union. The statements also alleged that I had refused to produce my papers when called upon to do so. This angered me and I required them to correct that misrepresentation:”

Cotler said he was then driven in a militia car to the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow and put on a Japanese Airline plane, the first available aircraft leaving the Soviet Union for the West. But before he was put aboard, his baggage was searched by plainclothesmen who removed documents pertaining to political prisoners.


In a press conference earlier Tuesday at the Canadian High Commission in London, his first stop after leaving Moscow, Cotler said that all the documents confiscated had either been previously published or were to have been handed to Soviet legal officials. He attributed his expulsion to the fact that there were “two competing authorities” — the Justice Ministry officials and the KGB.

One of the documents confiscated was the 800-page legal appeal for Shcharansky: Cotler said it contained depositions by 50 witnesses who had been refused permission to testify in court on Shcharansky’s behalf. American journalist Robert Toth of the Los Angeles Times, to whom Shcharansky had been charged with passing secret information, had subsequently sworn that a statement he had made in the Soviet Union had been false, that it was in Russian and he had not understood it, and that he had signed it under the threat of not being allowed to leave the country.

The document listed 40 major violations. by the Soviet Union of its own laws. It had been handed to the Soviet Embassy in Canada last August. The Soviet officials whom Cotler had planned to meet were all connected with trials of dissidents. They were Chief Justice Orlov of the Supreme Court of the RSFSR, Justice of the Supreme Court of the USSR, and First Deputy Procurator General Roman Rudenko, He had arranged to meet them in connection with a book he is writing on the Soviet legal system.

In the week before his expulsion, Cotler said that he and other foreign delegations to the political science conference had held nightly meetings with Soviet dissidents, Including Lerner and academician Andrei Sakharov, with the full knowledge of the Soviet authorities.

He said he believed this was allowed because of the Insistence by the international Political Science Association which sponsored the congress that if the delegates were harassed or discriminated against during the period of the conference, it would be cancelled. The Russians therefore waited until after the conference had ended before arresting Cotler and confiscating his papers and expelling him.

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