By roundly condemning the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Soviet dissidents, including the exiled Dr. Andrei Sakharov, are making a strong bid for more international support for the cause of basic human rights.
They are also throwing their moral weight behind a boycott or a shift in site of the Moscow Olympic Games in July -- and exposing themselves to even harsher official reprisals, given the sensitivities about both Afghanistan and the Olympics here.
In effect, the statement issued in Moscow Jan. 24 (but date Jan. 21) is the strongest dissident answer yet to recent harassment and arrests by the authorities, as well as to the Afghan invasion itself.
Striking back at official accusations that Dr. Sakharov had to be exiled because he was "blurting out" state secrets to Westerners, a separate dissident statement dated Jan. 23 said the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner "embodies the conscience of our country" and was "the pride of our people."
The statement on Afghanistan could well endanger members of the Helsinki human-rights group that issued it, sources here believe. As reported in this newspaper Jan. 24, sources close to the Sakharov family believe it was his decision to sign the statement Jan. 21 that led to the sudden official decision Jan. 22 to exile him to the city of Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow in an area closed to foreigners.
The statement, signed by Dr. Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner, as well as by seven other dissidents, said the Soviet Union, a nation of 260 million, as "suppressing the independence of Afghanistan," a nation of 17 million, "while the Soviet mass media claim that our people are giving their unanimous support."
It went on, "But in reality people in the USSR have neither truthful information nor the right to express their opinion, even on such arbitrary step by the government as the start of a new, unjust war."
Although the Helsinki Final Act of 1975 linked preserving peace and observing human rights, "It is the absence of basic human rights which gives the leadership of the USSR the possibility to take decisions affecting not just the future our country but of all humanity without any sort of control. . . ."
The statement said 104 countries in the UN General Assembly has opposed the invasion, but the USSR had said it would ignore the resolution.The dissidents urged "believers and atheists, workers and businessmen, scientists and artists, sportsmen and sports lovers, public and political leaders" to fight for the Assembly resolution and its call for Soviet troop withdrawal.
The statement also urged these people to fight to fulfill the universal declaration of human rights in all countries.
The words "sportsmen and sports lovers," clearly indicating the Olympic Games , were inserted by Dr. Sakharov himself in a telephone call Jan. 24 from Gorky. He also urged that the statement be released Jan. 24. The implication: The statement supports an Olympic boycott or shift from Moscow.
When he first decided to sign, some fellow dissidents asked him to consider if he was doing a wise thing. The authorities, they suggested, might consider the Sakharov prestige on such a sensitive statement to be reason for finally moving against him.
But Dr. Sakharov signed anyway, as did his wife. The next day, he was picked up and exiled within the space of four hours. Sources close to the family and to the Moscow branch of Amnesty International believe his signature triggered the exile.
Other sources here say the Soviets acted because American and other Western opinion no longer has the power to deter Soviet internal actions, given the poor state of detente and the apparent imperviousness of the Kremlin to outside criticism these days.
The Afgham invasion is an extremely sensitive topic here.
The Soviet state is going to great lengths to orchestrate public support for it.
But already many Soviet people have heard via Western shortwave radio broadcasts that the Italian, Spanish, and British Communist parties have condemned the invasion and that the UN General Assembly was overwhelmingly against it.
The same radio broadcasts are carrying the news of the latest Sakharov statement on Afghanistan. The Voice of America recently has stepped up programming to the Soviet Union to try and counteract massive anti-American Soviet broadcasts.
The Sakharov statement was made available here in the name of the Helsinki human-rights group, which was founded by Yuri Orlov. Tried in May 1978, Dr. Orlov is in a labor camp serving a seven-year sentence for "slandering the Soviet state."
Though decimated by crackdowns since October 1976, the Helsinki group and other dissidents here retain moral weight and the power to provoke the Kremlin into action.
Dr. Orlov, is a statement smuggled to friends, said last May the dissident movement had caused the Kremlin to change some of its phraseology. It has also emancipated many intellectuals ideologically and had aroused a growing sympathy among workers for political freedom.
Signing the latest statement were Yelena Bonner (Mrs. Sakharov), retired lawyer Sofia Kalistratova, Ivan Kovalyov, and Malva Landa, all Helsinki group members.
Miss Landa, a geologist, has already spent time in prison for her activities. Sources say she is now being interrogated and is virtually certain to be arrested again soon.
Also signing: Georgy Vladimov, head of Moscow branch of Amnesty International; Leonid Ternovsky, part of the dissident effort against the use of psychiatry for political ends; Crimean Tatar Mustafa Dzhemilyov, whose people want to be settled in their own lands after being forcibly moved at the start of World War Ii; Dr. Sakharov; and Alexander Lavyt, a friend of just-arrested mathematician Tatyana Velikanova.
The separate statement praising Dr. sakharov was signed by 18 dissidents. Sources said more names were being added Jan. 24.
Miss Velikanova was arrested recently along with a Russian Orthodox priest, a Ukrainian music teacher, and a Lithuanian nationalist.
Arrested Jan. 23 were two writers close to the unofficial journal named Poiski (Quest). They were Yuri Grimm and Viktor Sokirko. Their homes were searched, along with the homes of three others.