MOSCOW — Anatoly Marchenko, who was imprisoned or sent into internal exile for more than two decades because of his dissident activities, has died in prison at age 48, his wife was told Tuesday in a telegram, family friends said.
Marchenko was the author of the 1967 book "My Testimony," one of the most graphic accounts of conditions in Soviet camps. He was a member of the Helsinki Watch Group, later disbanded, which sought to monitor Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki accords.
A Moscow friend said that Larisa Bogoraz, the dissident's wife and the couple's 13-year-old son, Paval, have left for Chistopol Prison, where Marchenko died in the prison hospital. Other friends said another son by a previous marriage and Marchenko's ex-wife also have left for Chistopol, which is about 600 miles east of Moscow.
The telegram did not say when Marchenko died or give the cause of his death.
Soviet authorities recently pressured Marchenko's wife to emigrate to Israel with her husband and son. Bogoraz is Jewish but has no relatives in Israel. Marchenko is not Jewish.
Serving a 10-Year Sentence
Marchenko, a Ukrainian, had been in and out of prisons and labor camps five times, spending in all more than 20 years in detention and in internal exile for dissident activities. At the time of his death he was serving a 10-year sentence on charges of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. The sentence was to have been followed by five years of internal exile, which would have run until 1996.
Bogoraz told the Associated Press in a recent interview that she refused a government request on Nov. 21 to apply to emigrate without first speaking with her husband, who she last was allowed to visit in April, 1984.
"I know he does not want to emigrate," Bogoraz said then of Marchenko, who rejected two previous official requests to emigrate to Israel.
The telegram from the Chistopol Prison was believed to be the first information Bogoraz had received about her husband since she asked for permission to visit him late last month.
Bogoraz said two weeks ago that her inquiries about her husband's health were not authoritatively answered. She said she was told by a KGB officer Nov. 21 that "Marchenko is feeling wonderful."
She said at the time that she doubted her husband was in good health because she had learned through sources that he had begun a hunger strike Aug. 4. She speculated that prison authorities had been force-feeding him.
Marchenko met his wife when they were both exiled in the Siberian town of Chuna, he for anti-Soviet slander and she for protesting the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
The couple applied to emigrate to the United States in 1974, but Soviet officials instead told them to get exit visas to Israel.
In his book, Marchenko recounted instances of brutality, malice and neglect that he had seen or suffered and said the book contained no incident that was not doubly borne out.
Driven to Despair
He told of camp inmates driven to such despair they flung themselves on the perimeter wire so that they would be machine-gunned to death and of starving convicts in Vladimir prison who cut flesh from their own bodies with a razor and ate it.
He also told of prisoners who swallowed nails and spoons and one who swallowed a whole set of dominoes, in attempts to be taken to the prison hospital.
Marchenko lost his hearing in the camps and accused prison authorities of neglecting his ear condition. At one stage he was so ill he could not move. When he recovered without any medical assistance, a fellow convict who was a doctor said he had survived meningitis.
The book ends with his release in 1966 from his second prison term, quoting a prison officer's parting remark:
"I fear that with your views, we shall be seeing you back again, Marchenko."