Soviets jail Baltic dissident in pre-Olympic crackdown
Another Soviet dissident has been jailed, this time an Estonian language teacher who has been fighting the Soviet system in the university city of Tartu for the last 22 years.
The arrest shows that the Kremlin crackdown in advance of the Moscow Olympic Games continues. But the determination with which dissident friends get news of the arrests to Western correspondents indicates that protest is by no means dead.
Mart Niklus, one of 45 dissidents who signed a "Baltic appeal" for independence last August, was picked up on March 19, according to news telephoned to this correspondent March 23 by friends in Tartu.
The friends did not know if he had been arrested in Tartu or on a train returning from Moscow. They said he was being held in a Tartu jail.
Evidently the arrest was designed only as a warning to him, since he was given only 15 days in jail. That is the standard sentence handed out to drunks and those held guilty of disorderliness.
Mr. Niklus's arrest followed the seizure of his colleague, Dr. Juri Kukk, an electrochemist being held in the Estonian capital of Tallinn and facing charges of anti-Soviet slander. Dr. Kukk could be jailed for up to three years or sent to a labor camp for one year.
A number of the 45 who signed the "Baltic appeal" have been harassed or fired from their jobs, Baltic sources say.
Mr. Niklus, well-known to the Baltic emigre organizations in the United States, is a trained ornithologist who has never been able to take up his profession. After graduating from college in 1958, he showed some pictures of Tallinn slums at a world youth festival and was jailed for 10 years.
After serving eight he was released and told officials had reduced the sentence to seven.
In 1976 he was arrested again, went on a hunger strike, and was released without explanation after 56 days.
A bachelor, he lives with his parents in Tartu. Late last year he was fired from his job as an English, French, and German teacher at an evening school.
A local court upheld the dismissal, but a court in Tallinn upheld his appeal and ordered a retrial. Five times since then the Tartu court has postponed the date, while KGB agents questioned former Niklus students.
"They are trying to prove I am not fit to teach," Mr. Niklus said in Moscow recently.
Disheartened by the crackdown against 1975 Nobel Peace Prize winner Andrei Sakharov and at least 14 other activists in Moscow and the Baltics since November, Mr. Niklus applied for permission to emigrate to Sweden recently. The application was denied.
But Mr. Niklus and Dr. Kukk had been followed before their arrests. Both had signed Baltic appeals against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and in favor of a boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Yachting events at the Olympics are to be held in Tallinn.
Meanwhile other Baltic sources complain that the KGB is intercepting mail from the United States, including copies of the monthly National Geographic magazine.