Iosif Begun

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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.[1] 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.[2] 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."[3]

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.[4] 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.[5]

In January 1988, a year after he was freed, Begun and his family was permitted to immigrate to Israel.[6] In May 1988, President Ronald Reagan invited and honored Iosif Begun at the White House.[7]

Begun's arrest, trial and imprisonment was followed and recorded by Amnesty International.[8] He was fully rehabilitated in 1992, and got back his Russian citizenship in 2001.[9] Haifa University awarded Begun an honorary doctorate "in recognition of his continued struggle to make an Aliah".[10]

Begun currently lives in Jerusalem and runs a publishing house translating Jewish books into Russian.[11]


  • President Reagan kept a silver “Prisoner Of Zion” bracelet, engraved with the name “Yosef Begun” on his desk in the White House.[12] Reagan later gave the bracelet to Begun at their 1988 White House meeting.[13]
  • Begun is the subject of short documentary "Iosef Begun - Human Rights Limited", made in 1980s.
  • Begun is a subject of the film "Through Struggle You Will Gain Your Rights”.[16][17]
  • Begun is the subject of a long Russian-language poem, "Begun" (1987), by the author and former refusenik David Shrayer-Petrov.

See also[edit]


  • Jerome E. Singer, "The case of Yosif Begun : analysis and documents", Jerusalem, 1979.

External links[edit]