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Wednesday, 6 June 1984
Page: 2619


Senator SIBRAA —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs seen the numerous recent Press reports concerning the health of Dr Andrei Sakharov? Can the Minister inform the Senate whether the Government has any additional information on Dr Sakharov's position? Further, has the Government raised with the Soviet Government at an official level Australia's concern at the inhuman treatment of Dr Sakharov?


Senator GARETH EVANS —As Senator Sibraa has said, there have been a great many Press reports about Dr Sakharov in recent times. The difficulty the Government has experienced, however, is that first hand information on Dr Sakharov's condition has really not been available to us or to anybody with whom we are in contact. Certainly the reports that Dr Sakharov has recently undertaken a hunger strike aimed at obtaining permission for his wife, Yelena Bonner, to leave the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics to seek medical treatment in the West appear to be accurate.

It is also the case that the Soviet authorities have responded today to some high level inquiries from leading Western communists by saying that Sakharov is in reasonable health and under observation in a clinic in Gorky. On 30 May, as I think has been reported, Tass, for what that is worth, said that he was 'feeling well, eating regularly and leading an active life'. That is as much as any of us really know.

I can add further to the other parts of the question. The Australian Government has sympathetically followed the plight of Dr Sakharov and his family for many years and is aware of widespread concern in Australia at the current tragic situation in which the family now finds itself. That concern is obviously now world-wide, with a number of statesmen and scientists making approaches from all over the world to the Soviet authorities. It is the case, as has been reported, that Mr Hayden raised this matter directly with the Foreign Minister on 29 May, during his visit to the USSR. Mr Hayden has stated that he made the Government's strong concern about Dr Sakharov's human rights unambiguously clear. In response , Mr Gromyko firmly rejected any suggestion, however, that the issue was subject to any international law or representations from third parties. Mr Hayden, for his part and the Government's, declared that human rights were universal and above the prescriptive authority of national law making.

It is also worth mentioning that the House of Representatives passed a motion a few days ago on 30 May calling upon the Soviet authorities to release Sakharov from internal exile and to permit Yelena Bonner to leave for medical treatment abroad. So it is the case that both at the government level and at the broad parliamentary level concern on this matter has been clear-cut, quite unambiguous and unanimous.