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Soviet Prison No Lark for Young German Flier

August 07, 1987|Associated Press

MOSCOW — Mathias Rust has buckwheat for breakfast, is permitted daily exercise and weekly showers, receives cash and books from his embassy but is forbidden to read any newspaper but Pravda, a Western diplomat said Thursday.

The official Communist Party daily is of little use, however, to the jailed West German teen-ager who landed a small plane in Moscow's Red Square on May 28. He does not understand Russian.

The 19-year-old pilot, now awaiting trial on charges that could cost him up to 10 years in prison, was described as "optimistic, in good spirits and healthy" after more than two months in Moscow's Lefortovo Prison.

Glimpse of His Life

In an interview, a diplomat with access to information about Rust's imprisonment provided a glimpse of the teen-ager's life in captivity on condition he not be identified.

Rust has been in prison since he piloted a single-engine Cessna from Finland through some of the most tightly guarded airspace in the world and landed at the foot of the Kremlin.

The flight earned him folk hero status at home and prompted embarrassed Kremlin leaders to send their defense minister into retirement and fire their chief of air defenses.

Visitors never see the teen-ager alone, the diplomat said. They are always accompanied by the officer investigating Rust's case, a translator and a note-taker.

The diplomat said Rust's cell is lit 24 hours a day, and guards check on him every half hour through a peephole in its door. Prison rules require inmates to sleep with their hands outside the covers and their faces exposed so they may be seen by the guards, he said.

Although there are indications that Rust has a Soviet cell mate, isolation is a major problem for many prisoners held for any length of time at Lefortovo, the diplomat said.

A prisoner is permitted contact only with his cell mate and his interrogator, the source said, and prisoners are ordered to turn their faces to the wall when other prisoners approach.

"For some prisoners, the interrogation period is welcome as at least a chance for conversation, coffee and a laugh," the diplomat reported.

Rust is believed to get about an hour of exercise daily on the roof of the prison.

Other than the solitary exercise period, Rust leaves his cell only for interrogations, weekly showers and twice-monthly visits when West German Embassy officials bring him books in German, letters, cookies and candy.

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