The Trial of Begun, May-June 1977 (46.2)

<<No 46 : 15 August 1977>>

On 6 May the trial of Josif Begun, arrested on 3 March (CCE 44), was put off until 27 May, but in fact it opened on 18 May (CCE 45), The pattern was then repeated: on 18 May the trial was put off until 8 June (CCE 45 erred here), but the court hearing took place on 1 June.

On 1 June, the people’s court of the Proletarsky district of Moscow finally heard the case in which Begun was charged with “leading a parasitical way of life for a lengthy period of time” (Article 209 of the RSFSR Criminal Code). Judge Avdonin presided. The prosecution was conducted by Procurator Golubkova.

The courtroom was filled by a specially invited public. Of Begun’s relatives and friends only Alla Drugova, Begun’s notarized representative, was allowed into the courtroom.

Begun and his lawyer made a number of requests to the court. For example, they asked that the court should call M.A. Donskaya, chairwoman of the Moscow City Finance Department, who had refused to register Begun as a private teacher of Hebrew; Nosovsky, a private teacher of Hebrew in Leningrad, who was registered as such; and Begun’s pupils in Hebrew. They also asked that the court should include in the case evidence Begun’s reference from the Moscow Goryachkin Engineering Institute of Agricultural Production, where Begun used to work as an assistant professor. The court refused all their requests.

In a speech in court. Begun stated that after he had applied to emigrate to Israel in April 1971, he was sacked, and he had to take on unskilled work. In 1972 he was sacked for “missing work”, as he was arrested three times (for ten days in May, during the visit of US President Nixon; for three days in September, during a session of the USSR Supreme Soviet; and for 14 days in December, during the 50th anniversary of the formation of the USSR) and was not given any documents to corroborate this. Having been deprived of ‘freelance’ work, from 1973 onwards Begun started to teach mathematics, English and Hebrew privately. He was registered as a teacher of mathematics but was refused registration as a teacher of Hebrew. All Begun’s efforts to obtain “employment by an institution” ended in failure. Even the labour exchange refused to assist him.

The prosecutor asked the court to sentence Begun to two years’ exile, using Article 43 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. Defence counsel. explaining why he considered Begun’s guilt unproven, asked that he be found not guilty.

During the whole court hearing there were certain people in the judge’s chambers. When the court retired to confer, they went in and out of the conference room.

The court repeated the indictment in the verdict and sentenced Begun to two years’ exile.


An appeal was made against the sentence, but the city court confirmed it.

Begun was assigned a place of exile in the Magadan Region [Soviet Far East]. He was sent there in a prisoners’ convoy. In July he was .still continuing a hunger-strike he had begun as a protest on 28 March. He has a man specially assigned to be with him and to feed him forcibly.

Fifteen activists of the Jewish movement in the USSR, in an appeal to the participants of the Belgrade conference and to the U S Congress, have declared that the sentence on Begun is a precedent legalising a ban on the Hebrew language:

“We call on you to consider seriously the continuing infringement of the rights of the Jewish minority in the USSR and to bring up this question on the agenda at the Belgrade conference.”