Anatoly and Avital Shcharansky: tireless fighters

Anatoly Shcharansky is a symbol of the Soviet human rights movement. Before his arrest nine years ago he was open about his dissident activities. ``My strength is that I do nothing secret, nothing illegal, so I shouldn't be afraid,'' he said.

A founding member of the Helsinki human rights monitoring group, Mr. Shcharansky's sentence to 13 years' jail and hard labor as an American spy in 1978 drew a chorus of protest from the West. President Carter publicly declared him innocent. Shcharansky's plight -- he has been ill in prison -- has been tirelessly publicized by his wife, Avital, and often raised with Moscow by Western leaders and human rights groups.

Shcharansky, son of a journalist and Communist Party member, was born in 1948 in the Ukrainian city of Donetsk. After graduating from the Moscow Physical-Technical Institute as a computer expert, he joined a research institute connected with the oil and gas industry.

When his application to emigrate to Israel was rejected in 1973, he joined the ranks of the ``refuseniks'' -- Jews barred from emigrating. Good-humored, balding, and fluent in English, Shcharansky acted as interpreter at unofficial press conferences held by refuseniks and the unofficial Helsinki human rights group.

Shcharansky and Natalya (now Avital) Stiglits, an art school graduate, were married by a Moscow rabbi in 1974. The authorities later made clear they regarded the marriage as invalid. The day after their wedding, Mrs. Shcharansky emigrated to Israel with a promise from the Soviet authorities that Anatoly would get his visa soon.

Shcharansky served the first part of his sentence in Christopol prison, 500 miles east of Moscow. In 1980 Shcharansky was moved to a labor camp in the Urals. He spent the first half of 1981 in solitary confinement.

After being moved back to Christopol for another three years in 1981 on charges of breaching discipline, he began a hunger strike in September 1982 protesting the confiscation of all correspondence with his family.

He abandoned the effort in January 1983 after his mother won the right to send him letters in prison. Shcharansky was reported to have been transferred back to a labor camp in November of 1984.

Avital has devoted her married life to winning his freedom, traveling the world in an unremitting campaign in which she talked to Carter and Ronald Reagan before he became president, as well as the leaders of Britain and France, and countless international organizations.

She has drawn her energy and optimism from her husband's unbowed spirit. ``Anatoly is so optimistic in his whole life that he makes people believe he will be free,'' she once said. ``I have no doubt that he will come.''

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