US Jews protest treatment of Soviet dissidents, refuseniks
Cambridge, Mass. — Jewish groups in the United States are raising a call of alarm over the worsening situation of refuseniks (Jews denied the right to emigrate) and dissidents (human-rights activists) in the Soviet Union.
In recent weeks, rallies, protests, press conferences, and even a mock trial of the Soviet government have been held in cities across the country, including a briefing in Washington for members of Congress. Among the charges being leveled against the Soviet government:
* Emigration of Soviet Jews, which numbered 51,320 as recently as 1979, fell to 2,688 in 1982, according to the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society in Vienna. Those denied visas are being told not to bother to come back and reapply.
* Dissidents, once subject to prosecution on charges of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation, are now being accused of more serious nonpolitical crimes that carry stiffer sentences.
* Jewish schoolchildren are systematically being denied entrance to leading Soviet universities, especially in the areas of mathematics and science. Two Soviet mathematicians who circulated a study documenting such practices at the prestigious Moscow State University have been put on trial for their activities. So far, one has been sentenced to five years in internal exile.
Speaking to members of the World Jewish Congress at the White House last week , President Reagan urged the Soviet Union to demonstrate its goodwill ''by releasing the prisoners of conscience in Siberia and restoring Jewish emigration to the levels of the late 1970s.''
Protest activities across the US were timed to coincide with the birthday of dissident Soviet computer scientist Anatoly B. Shcharansky and the beginning of the fourth year of internal exile for Nobel prize-winning physicist Andrei D. Sakharov in January. Mr. Shcharansky, a symbol of cooperation between Jewish and other Soviet dissidents, has been imprisoned since 1978 and reportedly is being painfully force-fed after beginning a hunger strike last fall. (A late January message from Yuri Andropov to French Communist Party leader Georges Marchais said that Shcharansky had ended his fast and was in good condition. But Shcharansky's mother in Moscow and his wife, now in the West, say they have received no confirmation of this.) Last week 62 members of the British Parliament, representing all the main political parties, made a public plea to Soviet leader Yuri Andropov for the release of Shcharansky.
Speaking at a January press conference here, Dr. David Powell of Harvard University's Russian Research Center said that the shutdown on Jewish emigration may be an effort to ''sell'' emigrants to the West, in exchange for relaxed US trade policies. ''If there is to be a (US) embargo on trade in high-technology items to the USSR,'' he said, ''they'll put an embargo on trade in the highest of all technology items, human beings.''