A prominent Jewish activist was arrested last week to intimidate the growing ranks of "refusedniks" -- frustrated would-be emigrants -- from campaigning openly for emigration, the jailed man's wife asserted today.

Irina Brailovsky said at a press conference that authorities had deliberately blocked the family's emigration to Israel, then seized her husband, Viktor, last Thursday solely to intimidate others. She estimated that Soviet curtailment of permission to emigrate may have left up to 50,000 Jews across the country with refused status.

More than 50,000 were allowed to leave last year, leading to many more applications for exit visas among Soviet Jews, she said. But so far this year, authorities have cut exits in half, creating a new wave of frustrated Jews eager to leave. Soviet authorities "would like to make a threatening example for others because of this newest wave of applications," Brailovsky said.

Her husband, a mathematics specialist, was editor of the samizdat (clandestinely published) journal "Jews in the U.S.S.R." and organizer of a weekly scientific seminar for Jewish researchers fired from their jobs after applying to leave. He has been charged with defaming the Soviet state.

Brailovsky said it is impossible to cite exact figures on the number of Jews either officially refused exit permission or who have waited more than a year without an answer. But she said her estimate of up to 50,000 is based on reports from such regional cities as Kiev, where, she said, there reportedly are more than 7,000 Jews who have been refused exit permission.