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Soviet Rights Activists Conduct Seminar

December 16, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — A group of human rights activists said Tuesday that they have managed to complete a six-day seminar on the subject despite government harassment.

"Much serious work was done," Lev Timofeyev, who organized the seminar, told reporters. "We have tried to raise the consciousness of human rights in Soviet and world opinion."

Timofeyev said that about 400 people took part and that about 200 reports were heard at the seminar, which was called by Press Club Glasnost. In Russian, the word glasnost , or openness, has been applied to the government's policy of being more candid and allowing freer discussion.

Volunteer Monitors

Timofeyev said that volunteers will undertake to monitor human rights throughout the Soviet Union. The last time Soviet citizens tried this, in connection with the Helsinki accords of 1975, many were sent to prison.

On three separate occasions, according to Timofeyev, a former political prisoner, the seminar organizers tried to arrange for the use of a hall where workshops and news conferences could be conducted. They were frustrated, he said, by the local authorities, who made it clear that no hall would be made available for an unofficial human rights conference.

Finally, he said, the groups met in several different apartments around the city.

"There was lots of public interest," he said, "and the hunger for free speech was so great that no single apartment could hold all who wanted to attend."

On Saturday, Timofeyev said, one of the participants, from the Crimea, was picked up by the police and put on board an airplane headed for that region.

Timofeyev said that tapes were made of the reports read at the seminar and that these will be made available throughout the country.

Crowded Press Conference

Tuesday's press conference took place in an apartment on the 11th floor of a building on the southern outskirts of Moscow and was crowded with people who had led working groups at the seminar.

One of them was Larissa Bogoraz, a veteran of the civil rights movement--in 1968 she was in the group that marched on Red Square to protest the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. She said her workshop discussed human rights in the fields of politics, economics and psychology.

Bogoraz, whose husband died last year while a political prisoner, said that "the human rights situation needs serious improvement here."

She said it is difficult to determine the actual number of political prisoners in the country, beyond the 220 admitted to by the authorities, because of "the many different laws" under which dissidents are charged.

No Libraries, Reading Rooms

Father Gleb Yakunin, a red-bearded Orthodox priest and a former political prisoner, said the authorities have not kept their promise to relax the restrictions on religious services and religious education. He said they also have yet to allow the setting up of religious libraries and reading rooms.

Yakunin said his panel agreed that young men who object on religious grounds to military service should have an opportunity to perform alternative service. This position, according to others who took part in the seminar, is certain to anger the government.

Equally provocative, they said, is a recommendation that the government apologize for the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia to suppress a government bent on liberalization.

"We also recommended that the death penalty be abolished," said Sergei Kovalyov, who headed the working group that formulated the recommendations.

Supportive of Students

This group also put itself on record as supporting students at Moscow State University in their demand that the government publish the critical speech that got Boris N. Yeltsin, head of the Communist Party in Moscow, fired from his post Nov. 11. Yeltsin reportedly inveighed against the slowness of reform before the national Communist Party's Central Committee.

Timofeyev said that despite the frustrations the seminar's organizers encountered, "we managed to conduct our work."

"Perhaps we are being too optimistic," he said, "but I believe that it is impossible to clamp down totally on our movement today."

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