MOSCOW — Soviet physicist Andrei D. Sakharov said Friday that the release of political prisoners begun earlier this year by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev has "unfortunately . . . slowed down."
Sakharov also criticized the Soviet government for not granting a general amnesty for political prisoners but instead treating each case individually and requiring most prisoners, before their release, to sign a promise to refrain from future public activity.
"This is an attempt to save face by those who were responsible for unjust judgments," Sakharov said.
But he reiterated his support of Gorbachev, who he said is engaged in important and complex matters of state.
The 67-year-old physicist, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for championing human rights causes, has refused requests for interviews from Western reporters in recent months. He made the comments to correspondents at the Soviet Academy of Sciences where he met visiting French Premier Jacques Chirac.
'Prisoners of Conscience'
Sakharov asked Chirac to bring the issue concerning "prisoners of conscience" to the attention of Kremlin officials during his visit here.
He also urged Chirac to speak on behalf of Serafim Yevsukov and his family, who have been denied permission to emigrate for nine years and now have an invitation to live in France.
Yevsukov, a former navigator with the Soviet airline Aeroflot, was placed in a psychiatric hospital for more than six months last year but was released after a plea by Sakharov. His son, also named Serafim, is now serving a second term in a Siberian prison camp for refusing to perform military service that the family argued would have impeded their departure.
Sakharov also asked Chirac to appeal for prisoners serving second terms and for those held in so-called "special regime" camps, which have the harshest conditions of the Soviet penal camp system.
In reply, Chirac said, "I sincerely hope that the evolution which we are observing in the Soviet Union will permit these problems to be solved as quickly as possible." Chirac, who met Thursday with Soviet Premier Nikolai I. Ryzhkov, conferred Friday with Gorbachev at the Kremlin.
'Misunderstandings' Cleared Up
The French premier said later that he and Gorbachev had cleared up some "misunderstandings," but he reported no progress on narrowing the gap between the two countries over disarmament. France has given a cool reception to recent Soviet arms control initiatives.
However, Chirac praised Gorbachev, describing him as clear-headed, frank and easy to talk to. "He is a man who can convince and be convinced," he added.
Soviet-French relations have been strained recently over differing policies on nuclear arms control and a spy case that led to the expulsion of half a dozen diplomats from each country.