Iosif Ziselovich Begun, sometimes spelled Yosef (born July 9, 1932 in Moscow, Russia) (Russian: Иосиф Зиселевич Бегун, Hebrew: יוסף ביגון), last is name pronounced "bee-goon" and in Russian literally means "runner," is a former Soviet refusenik, prisoner of conscience, human rights activist, author and translator. Over the course of 17 years, Begun was imprisoned three times and spent over eight years in prisons and labor camps as a political prisoner. He was pardoned and freed in 1987 after political pressure from Jewish political organizations and the US Government.
Begun was born and grew up in Moscow, Soviet Union. He graduated from Radio Technology Department of Moscow Power Engineering Institute in 1957, and Department of Mathematics at Moscow State University in 1962 (in the extension school). He received Candidate of Technical Sciences degree and worked as an electronics engineer and a statistician.
From 1971 to 1988, Begun was repeatedly arrested for his political activities, and imprisoned under social parasitism charge. One of his early arrests, in 1972, was during a 10 day Moscow visit by President Richard Nixon. After his first two labor camp terms, he was forced to live on 101st kilometre, in Strunino Village, Vladimir Oblast. In 1982, he received a seven-year sentence for "anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda." His actual crime was teaching Hebrew and protesting for free emigration of Soviet Jews to Israel. His struggles led to wide protests in the West, by NCSJ and other Jewish organizations, and US diplomatic protestations. His case was covered by a number of media outlets, which referred to Begun as a "leader of the Jewish emigration movement."
In February 1987 refusenik protests against Begun's continuing imprisonment took place on Arbat Street in downtown Moscow. The protesters, among them Begun's son Boris Begun, Begun's wife Inessa Begun, veteran refusenik Emilia Shrayer and other refuseniks, were attacked and beaten by KGB agents in plain sight of onlookers and foreign journalists. Following the refusenik protests, Begun's release from prison was announced on February 16, 1987, by Georgy Arbatov, a member of the Central Committee, in a Face the Nation interview on CBS.
Begun's arrest, trial and imprisonment was followed and recorded by Amnesty International. He was fully rehabilitated in 1992, and got back his Russian citizenship in 2001. Haifa University awarded Begun an honorary doctorate "in recognition of his continued struggle to make an Aliah".
- President Reagan kept a silver “Prisoner Of Zion” bracelet, engraved with the name “Yosef Begun” on his desk in the White House. Reagan later gave the bracelet to Begun at their 1988 White House meeting.
- He was one of the two Jews mentioned by Elie Wiesel in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the other being Ida Nudel
- Begun is the subject of short documentary "Iosef Begun - Human Rights Limited", made in 1980s.
- Begun is the subject of a long Russian-language poem, "Begun" (1987), by the author and former refusenik David Shrayer-Petrov.
- Soviet Union A Day in the Depths of the Gulag, Time Magazine, March 09, 1987.
- IOSIF BEGUN, A DEFIANT MAN, New York Times, February 13, 1987.
- Rally for a Soviet Jew, New York Times, January 31, 1987.
- Mark Whittaker with Robert B. Cullen, "Countering Gorbachev," Newsweek February 23, 1987; Maxim D. Shrayer, Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story, Syracuse 2013, pp. 248-257; Steve Goldstein, "Crowd Derides Moscow Protesters," The Philadelphia Inquirer' February 10, 1987.
- Soviet Announces A Jewish Dissident Has Been Freed, The New York Times February 16, 1987.
- Begun Leaves Soviet, Ending 17-Year Emigration Struggle, New York Times, January 19, 1988.
- Ronald Reagan, Remarks at a White House Briefing on Religious Freedom in the Soviet Union, May 3, 1988, accessible from Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. In the official photograph, Begun in on the right.
- A Chronicle of Current Events.(PDF)
- As Former Refuseniks Reminisce, They Think About a New Movement, NCSJ, December 23, 2001.
- Honorary Doctorate Conferees
- Yosef Begun to tell his story at Beth Israel
- Jeff Jacoby, When They Come For Us, We'll Be Gone, Townhall.com, March 3, 2011.
- Soviet Refusnik Yosef Begun Addresses 11th and 12th Grade
- Text of Elie Wiesel's acceptance speech, PBS
- Review in the Jewish Magazine, August 2008.
- Russian Division Author Event: The Refusenik Movement: From the Outside and Inside
- Yosef Begun- One of the Greatest Refusenik "Outlaws" of the Last Century
- Jerome E. Singer, "The case of Yosif Begun : analysis and documents", Jerusalem, 1979.
- Begun's speech at NCSJ conference in 1988, C-SPAN video archive.
- Former refusenik comes to terms with Jews who stay put, an interview with Iosif Begun.
- Pictures from 75-th birthday banquet.
- Autobiography (in Russian)
- Yosef Begun: Human Rights Limited on YouTube, a documentary about Iosif Begun from the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, posted by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
- Yosef Begun on YouTube, a video of a speech (in Russian).