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Jewish Activist Vows 'Fight for Real Civil Rights' : 'Insanely Happy,' Begun Arrives Home

February 23, 1987|Associated Press

MOSCOW — Jewish activist Josef Begun came home to a tumultuous welcome today after more than three years in prison and vowed to "fight for real civil rights" and the release of all prisoners held for their beliefs.

"I am insanely happy to be free," Begun said at the Kazan train station where he arrived from Chistopol Prison, 500 miles east of Moscow.

Begun was surrounded by dozens of friends and well-wishers who tossed him carnations and tulips and hoisted him onto their shoulders. The crowd shouted the Hebrew greeting "Shalom!" and sang Hebrew songs and the Israeli national anthem.

Begun, wearing a blue prison coat and brown fur hat covering his close-cropped hair, appeared tired and gaunt after what he called the "inhuman conditions" at the prison. He said he had been in a punishment cell after going on a hunger strike Feb. 9.

The 55-year-old Begun was given a seven-year sentence in 1983 on charges of anti-Soviet activity stemming from articles he wrote on the teaching of Hebrew. He was pardoned last week by the Supreme Soviet, the country's nominal parliament, and was released from jail Friday.

Soviet officials have said that the 150 dissidents released this month asked for pardons and promised not to resume any activities deemed anti-Soviet.

But Begun said he did not ask for a pardon or agree to stop any activities.

He added, however, that he saw his release as a "certain sign that all political prisoners will be free in the nearest future. I will devote all my strength to see that this happens as soon as possible."

Begun said that he still wants to emigrate to Israel but that authorities have not promised an exit visa for himself and his family.

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