The Trial of Iosif Begun

The trial of Iosif Begun is scheduled to begin tomorrow (Friday) in Moscow. He is charged with parasitism and could receive one year’s imprisonment. He has been on hunger strike in his cell in protest against the charge.

Begun ‘was arrested the day before the publication of the Izvestia article in which seven Jewish activists were accused of being in the service of the CIA. His detention has been somewhat overshadowed by the subsequent arrest of one of the movement’s leaders, Anatoly Shcharansky.

No charges have yet been preferred against Shcharansky or indeed any of the other Helsinki watchdog committee members under arrest. Shcharansky’s mother has been told by the head of the investigation department at Lefortovo prison: ‘Your son has committed a dangerous crime against the state and you should prepare yourself for a prolonged investigation”.

Begun and Shcharansky both appear to be victims of the Kremlin’s rage at the Carter Administration’s policy on human rights. They may have been selected because they opposed the initial KGB offensive when the outrageously anti-Semitic documentary, “Traders in souls”, was shown on Soviet television two days after Carter’s inauguration.

Begun, Shcharansky, Vladimir Slepak and Yuli Kosharovski attempted to prosecute Soviet television for defamation of character. Begun’s photograph was flashed on the screen and he was accused of receiving money from abroad to finance “the subversive activities of the movement”.

When he applied to emigrate in 1971, Begun was working at the Central Scientific Research Institute of Economics. After dismissal from his post, he took various menial jobs such as a night watchman on a building site. Yet he was unable to keep even these after the KGB notified his various employers. Since 1972, he has been self-employed as a private tutor of Hebrew.

Activists in Moscow are worried that the parasitism charge could apply to any Hebrew teacher as well as to many other activists. In recent weeks, Vladimir Prestin and Vladimir Lazaris have been accused of parasitism and leading Hebrew teacher Pavel Abramovich has been dismissed from his post as secretary to a university professor.

The Begun case also has an American connection. A few days before his arrest, Begun and Professor Benjamin Fain were detained at the entrance of the American Embassy in Moscow. Both had been involved in organising the international cultural seminar in Moscow last December.

At the same time, there have also been some concessions by the Kremlin. Dr. Mikhail Shtern has been released from camp and permitted to leave the country. The file on Naum Salansky, a physicist from Vilnius, has been suddenly closed, ending many weeks of harrowing interrogations. Salansky has now been,’ given a permit to join his ailing mother in Israel.

Two weeks ago, the KGB permitted a three-day scientific symposium to take place in the apartment of Professor Mark Azbel. It commemorated the fifth anniversary of the establishment of the weekly seminar for refusenik Jewish scientists by Professor Alexander Voronel in 1972. Ten I.JS and Canadian scientists were allowed to enter the USSR but a group of French scientists who applied officially were all denied visas. All five sessions of the symposium, unhindered by the KGB, were held in Azbel’s flat, with 30 participants squeezed into one room.

Jewish Observer June 1978

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