Soviets to Release All Political Prisoners
Kohl Says Gorbachev Agreed to Free Prisoners of Conscience by End of Year
MOSCOW--Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany said yesterday the Soviets have agreed to release all people regarded as political prisoners within the next 10 weeks.
Kohl made the statement at a news conference at which he reviewed the results of 10 hours of talks he held this week with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and other top Soviet officials.
During his discussions Kohl said, "the Soviets confirmed that they would release before the end of the year all people who could be considered political prisoners."
When asked how many people that could involve, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany replied, "We are not in a position to give final figures."
Many Western governments have given lists to the Soviets of people they regard as jailed or held in psychiatric institutions for their political or religious beliefs.
In Washington, Deputy White House Press Secretary Roman Popadiuk said, "We have seen the news reports. We are awaiting further details. If true, it is something we would look forward to."
In New York, the chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Morris Abram said he was skeptical of the reported Soviet promise.
"One will have to wait to see whether or not the promise is confirmed by the practice," Abram told The Associated Press.
"I am skeptical because we've heard for a long time that the Soviets are going to obey the obligation to let everyone leave the country who wishes to leave. And that's just not happened," he said.
When asked if the pledge had come from Gorbachev himself, Kohl said only that it was made "during the talks." His remarks in German were translated into English by the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
Such a move would be one of the most dramatic signs yet from Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that he seeks a definitive break with past Soviet human rights practices, which have included the confinement of people who disagree publicly with Kremlin policy.
Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov refused to confirm or deny that a release of political prisoners was in the offing.
Gerasimov said the number of political prisoners in the country was about two dozen. However, political rights groups say there are about 200 political prisoners in the Soviet Union.
Amnesty International, the London-based human rights group, said last month the number of people imprisoned in Soviet labor camps, psychiatric hospitals or exiled for their political beliefs numbered about 200, compared to 10,000 a few years ago.
Soviet officials contend that all but a few people classified in the West as political prisoners have been released since a review of such cases began in February 1987.
They also say the law under which they were charged, forbidding dissemination of anti-Soviet propaganda or agitation, is being softened in the revision of the Soviet criminal code.
In January, Soviet human rights activist Andrei D. Sakharov gave Gorbachev a list of 200 Soviets he said were imprisoned because of their political or religious views.