Two American correspondents in Moscow were summoned to a state prosecutor's office today in a move possibly intended to warn foreign journalists against contacts with dissidents and Jews who seek to emigrate to Israel.
Robert Gillette of the Los Angeles Times and Walter Wisniewski, the chief United Press International correspondent, were called in to testify in a case against a Soviet Jew who appealed earlier this year to Israeli President Yitzhak Navon for help in leaving the Soviet Union.
According to U.S. sources, today's interrogations did not appear to be directed against the journalists themselves. Wisniewski left Moscow later today for a holiday visit to the United States.
Gillette was questioned for more than three hours and Wisniewski for 2 1/2 hours. A U.S. Embassy official was present at the sessions.
According to the two correspondents, the case seemed to focus on Yuri Medvedkov, a geographer, who was one of a group of 13 scholars who wrote a letter to Navon last February. The letter said there were 40 professors and about 300 PhDs who had applied to leave for Israel and whose applications were turned down by the Soviet authorities.
The letter to Navon charged that the Jewish emigration applicants were "being destroyed as scholars and breadwinners" and asked him to mount an international campaign to help them get exit visas.
Gillette and Wisniewski were called to testify about the authenticity of the letter and their reports about it.
"They kept asking me to confirm the validity of the details in our story," Wisniewski said. "I said the story speaks for itself and I could not discuss any details of how we gather information in Moscow."
Wisniewski said Deputy Prosecutor Sergei Zabrolov and senior investigator Gennady Korshunov showed him a story in the Jerusalem Post of Feb. 23 that quoted a UPI report from Moscow about the letter.
Gillette said he told the Soviet officials that he viewed the interrogation as "an attempt to harass Western correspondents and discourage Soviet citizens from talking to them." Gillette said he told them he had no intention "to discuss sources or my methods of work as a journalist."
The U.S. Embassy here had no comment.
Jewish sources here expressed fears today that the American reporters' testimony could be used as evidence on charges of anti-Soviet activities.