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A heroine goes home

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IMAGINE, if you can, this scenario: An American professor, perhaps at a university like Harvard, speaks out against the Reagan administration. The issue might be Nicaragua, or ``star wars,'' or immigration policy.

The administration warns this erring professor, and his outspoken wife, to be silent. They fail to heed the government's injunction. The government carries out a series of increasingly harsh punitive actions.

The professor is stripped of his job, prevented from talking to the press, harassed in dozens of ways, and finally sentenced to exile in remote northern Maine.

There, he and his wife have their mail censored, their telephone calls regulated. Their contacts with their family are restricted. They are barred from talking with reporters, and reporters are prevented from visiting them. From time to time, they smuggle out messages to their friends.

They are under surveillance and threat of further government action. They are secretly filmed by the authorities.

A sizable security apparatus is devoted to keeping these two elderly critics in isolation and preventing them from voicing their dissent from certain aspects of official policy.

The government's inhumane action rouses a storm of criticism outside the country, but the government remains adamant.

The professor's wife wants to leave the country for medical attention. The authorities in Washington refuse. The professor goes on a hunger strike.

Eventually, while the professor is kept in Maine for insurance, the wife is permitted to travel to a country outside the United States, provided she promises not to talk with the foreign press about the treatment to which she and her husband have been subjected.

If a novelist submitted to a publisher such a plot for a book, it would be dismissed as bizarre and implausible.

Yet move the locale from the United States to the Soviet Union and fantasy becomes fact in the experience of Andrei Sakharov and his wife, Yelena Bonner.

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