The Trial of Begun, 28 June 1978 (50.8-5)

<<No. 50 : November 1978>>

Candidate of Technical Sciences Josif Ziselevich BEGUN (b. 1933) has been a refusenik since 1971, He is an activist of the Jewish emigration movement.

In 1977 Begun was sentenced under Article 209, part 1, of the Russian Criminal Code (“leading a parasitic way of life for a prolonged period”) to 2 years’ exile (CCE 44 and CCE 46.2). He served his sentence in the Magadan Region [Soviet Far East]. In view of his having been held in custody for a long period, Josif Begun’s term of exile ended on 15 February 1978 (CCE 48).

Josif Begun, b. 1933


On 5 March Josif Begun returned to Moscow.

On 10 March Alla (Etya) Drugova applied to the 84th police station for Josif Begun — her husband and the father of her two children (12 and 14 years old) — to be registered at her place of residence.

On 16 March Begun asked to be registered as residing with his wife, even if only temporarily, while the question of permanent registration was being decided. In reply, officers of the 84th police station drew up a record stating that Begun had infringed the residence regulations and made him sign an undertaking to leave Moscow within 72 hours.

On the same day Begun also received a refusal from the 37th police station to his request to be registered at his former place of residence: “No. 14 Melnikov Street has been vacated for major repairs. It is not possible to be registered there.”

On 17 March A. Drugova received a refusal “on the basis of Article 27 of the Statutes on Registration and De-registration of the Population in Moscow”. (Later in the police station I. Begun was told that, according to the new Statutes, since 27 May 1977 Article 209 of the Russian Criminal Code is included in the list of those for which ex-convicts are ‘forbidden’ to register in Moscow.)

I. Begun sent a statement to the head of the Moscow City Soviet Executive Committee UVD, that read:

“… My family lives in the area of the 84th police station, and I applied to the registration desk of the above-mentioned 84th police station to be registered in Moscow. I received an official reply on 17 March of this year. However, on 16 March I was detained by police officers and in the same 84th police station was issued with an administrative penalty for breaking the registration regulations.

“I presume this is sheer nonsense, and I ask you to take necessary measures.”

On 18 March I. Begun and A. Drugova were received by the Deputy Head of the Moscow City UVD, General Pashkovsky, who told them that the question of Begun’s registration would be re-examined and promised that while it was being examined there would be no administrative sanctions against Begun.

On 21 March I. Begun went to the Registration Department of the Moscow City UVD, where Lieutenant Koroleva told him to be there on 24 March with the documents necessary for his registration in Moscow. On 24 March, however, when I. Begun arrived, he was detained by officers of the 93rd police station, who made a second record stating that he had broken the residence regulations and again made him sign an undertaking to leave Moscow. Mentioning General Pashkovsky’s promise, and Lieutenant Koroleva’s summons did not help.

The same day, on the instructions of the Deputy Head of Moscow OVIR, Zotov, the City OVIR accepted Begun’s application to emigrate “as an exception” (i.e., notwithstanding the fact that he was not registered).

On 26 March Begun wrote in a statement to General Pashkovsky that invoking his words had not spared him from having to sign a second undertaking to leave the city:

“You have the authority and, I hope, the sense of moral responsibility to annul these two groundless undertakings … Don’t make me a common criminal, don’t make me a homeless tramp when I have a family and a home.”

On 1 April Begun received a summons to attend a session of a Committee of Deputies of the Moscow Soviet on 6 April, where the question of his registration would be examined. He requested the Chairman of the Committee, General Shutov, to guarantee his safety when he came to Moscow. He received no reply and did not go to the session on 6 April.

During these days he sent statements protesting against the actions of the police to Brezhnev, Shchelokov, Shutov, and the Head of the Registration Department of the USSR MVD.

On 11 April Begun sent an appeal for help to Western trade unions; on 15 April, to the UN Human Rights Commission.

On 20 April Begun and A. Drugova attended a session of the Committee of Deputies of the Moscow Soviet, where the question of Begun’s registration was examined. The Committee postponed the question for further examination.

On 26 April Begun requested the Committee of Deputies for permission to register at his wife’s flat, at least temporarily, in order to help her look after her sick mother.

On 28 April Begun received a notice from the Deputy Head of the Registration Department of the USSR MVD, M. I. Gusev, stating that the question of his registration had been sent to be examined by the Moscow City UVD. On 17 May Begun received the next notice, saying that the UVD was examining his application and would inform him of their decision.


On 17 May I. Begun spent several hours by the building where Yury Orlov was on trial [CCE 50.1]. When he left the building, officers of the 84th police station arrested him in the street. He was charged under Article 198 of the Russian Criminal Code (“infringement of the residence regulations”). Begun declared a hunger-strike.

On 19 May V. Kuvakin (CCE 48) sent a telegram to the USSR Procurator-General and the Minister of Internal Affairs, that read:

“I categorically protest against the illegal arrest of Josif Begun. There are no grounds whatsoever for selecting this type of restraint. I can perceive no corpus delicti, for his undertaking to leave Moscow has been rescinded until a decision is made on his registration in Moscow.

“On the basis of Article 47 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure I ask you to decide whether I will be permitted to appear in court as Josif Begun’s defence counsel.”

On the same day Begun was taken to the MVD investigation prison on Matrosskaya Tishina Street.

Several days later Begun’s relatives received a postcard from the Registration Department of the Moscow City UVD, stating that he had been refused permission to register on the basis of the “Decree on Registration and De registration — in connection with his conviction”. The postcard was addressed to Begun himself and was dated 19 May.

On 22 May A. Drugova sent a statement to the Moscow Procuracy, giving an account of events.

On 29 May the Christian Committee for the Defence of Believers’ Rights in the USSR made a statement in defence of Begun.

On 18 June A. Drugova appealed to the President of the International Olympic Committee:

“Mr. President, when two years from now you admire the bright, colourful spectacle of the sports parades and competitions, perhaps you will remember the suffering of families forced to part, of those who have been removed from your sight to prisons and camps.

“We can only hope that you will raise your authoritative voice against the inhuman cruelty which shames and distorts the meaning and spirit of the Olympic movement.”


On 28 June, the people’s court of the Proletarsky district of Moscow heard Begun’s case. The Chairman was R. A. Novitskaya. Begun refused the lawyer assigned to him but the court ignored his refusal. A. Drugova petition the court to allow S. Alber (Jewish activist, physicist, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, and Professor) to act as Begun’s defence counsel, but the court rejected her petition.

The only witnesses at the trial were police officers and the detectives who had followed Begun.

Josif Begun was taken to the trial after a 42-day hunger-strike. He was in a semi-unconscious condition. The requests of Begun, his wife and the lawyer assigned to him, to call a doctor and postpone the trial, were rejected. Judge Novitskaya stated that the trial would go on regardless of the condition of the accused. She made Begun stand, although he could only do so by propping himself up on his elbows or with his escort supporting him. When he fell, almost losing consciousness, he was handcuffed by order of the Judge. Afterwards he was lifted up by the handcuffs.

A. Drugova left the courtroom, unable to stand her husband’s appearance. As a sign of protest S. Alber also left the room. There were no other relatives or friends of the accused in the courtroom.

At 1 pm the following telegram was sent to Brezhnev and Rudenko:

“In the people’s court of the Proletarsky district of Moscow Josif Begun is being tried today, charged with breaking the residence regulations. The accused is in an extremely serious physical condition. The lawyer assigned by the court has demanded a medical examination and postponement of the trial. The Judge has stated that the trial will go on regardless of the condition of the accused.

“We ask you to intervene immediately.

S. Alber, V. Brailovsky, A. Drugova, V, Sorin, I. Tsitovsky, B. Chernobylsky.

The sentence was learned only on the following day: 3 years’ exile (with application of Article 43 of the Russian Criminal Code).


On 25 July the Moscow City Court, having examined Begun’s appeal, left the sentence in force.

On 27 July Begun ceased his hunger-strike.

On 10 August he was dispatched on his journey. At the beginning of September, he arrived in his place of exile, the same place where he served his previous exile. This is the town of Susuman (Magadan Region). His exile ends in October 1980.