Lawmakers Fast to Highlight Plight of Refuseniks
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Members of Congress seeking to pressure the Soviet Union to loosen its emigration policies say they hope to send a message to the Soviet people as well as government officials.
Wednesday marked the fifth annual observance of a day-long fast organized by the lawmakers to dramatize the issue.
″Hopefully, we won’t have to have events like this in the future,″ said Rep. Robert Mrazek, D-N.Y. ″It’s such an agony for people that I’ve met who haven’t seen their loved ones for years - for decades.″
Mrazek said nearly 200 senators and House members agreed to fast, participate in a prayer vigil or offer speeches on the House floor.
He said the actions are meant to send a message not only to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as he prepares for a summit next week with President Reagan, but to ″millions of Soviet citizens who need to know that the world hasn’t forgotten them.″
While progress is occurring in some areas under Gorbachev, Mrazek said, ″I’m not convinced that they include human rights improvements and that’s our primary interest here today.″
Participating in the prayer vigil and fast were relatives of some of the so-called refuseniks - those unable to leave the Soviet Union. The relatives rejected Gorbachev’s assertion earlier this week that exit visas are denied only in cases where state security is concerned.
″They say that my dying father is a security risk to the Soviet Union,″ said Anna Charny-Blank of Needham, Mass. ″It is ridiculous. It is an excuse for killing him.″
She said her father, Benjamin Charny of Moscow, has cancer and heart disease.
An Israeli couple fighting to get permission for five relatives to emigrate from Moscow to Jerusalem pleaded with a Soviet Embassy official in the office of Rep. Albert Bustamante, D-Texas.
The pair implored Gueorgui S. Markossov, a counselor at the embassy, to intervene on behalf of their relatives, Vladimir Dashevsky, a reknowned astrophysicist and Jewish educator, his wife and their three children.
Irina Dashevsky and her husband, Michael Cara Ivanov, said the Soviets have cleared her father for emigration but that the parents of his wife are blocking their exit because they are ardent communists who despise Israel.
In an open letter carried by his daughter, the 50-year-old Dashevsky says he has been harrassed by the Soviet KGB for the past seven years because of his religious beliefs and teachings.
The Soviet Union has stepped up emigration tenfold this year and released more than 100 political prisoners. But U.S. diplomats and lawmakers say the situation remains unsatisfactory despite this progress.