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Hope For Freedom

February 12, 1986

Thirteen years after he first sought permission to emigrate from the Soviet Union and eight years after he began a harsh imprisonment for his human rights activities, Anatoly Shcharansky has been allowed to leave his homeland to travel and live where he chooses. Shcharansky's release from a Soviet labor camp culminates years of efforts in his behalf by his family, by human rights groups around the world, and not least by successive American Administrations.

Shcharansky's release came as part of a prisoner exchange involving intelligence agents from Warsaw Pact and Western countries. At U.S. insistence, Shcharansky was able to cross the Glienicke Bridge into West Berlin just before the larger swap took place, thus symbolically separating him from Soviet claims that he had been a Western espionage agent.

That charge was not made until 1977, a year after Shcharansky joined with other dissidents in Moscow to monitor Soviet compliance with the Helsinki human rights agreement. Along with his refusenik status these activities brought Shcharansky into close touch with Western reporters in Moscow and under the close surveillance of the Soviet secret police. To believe the Soviet allegations of spying, then, would be to believe that Shcharansky engaged in espionage precisely at the time when, as he well knew, his every activity was under the tightest official scrutiny.

Shcharansky became a notable figure in part because of the unremitting courage he displayed in protesting against the injustice of his imprisonment. There are other Russians of similar courage who still await long-delayed freedom. They include the physicist Andrei Sakharov. They include the more than 300,000 Jews whose requests to emigrate have been refused. They include countless unknown others, who would gladly live elsewhere if given the chance. The Soviet regime, as a matter of state policy and ideological imperative, denies them that chance. Anatoly Shcharansky became the exemplary victim of that denial. Now he is free. The others who would follow him if they could must not be forgotten.

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