MOSCOW, SEPT. 7 -- A group of Soviet dissidents and political activists today announced plans to hold an international seminar in the Soviet capital with their counterparts from Europe, the United States and Canada.
The seminar is expected to prepare the ground for an officially organized conference on human rights that Moscow has proposed to host, according to Lev Timofeyev, a former Soviet political prisoner.
The organizers, headed by Timofeyev and including 16 other political activists, have sent a letter informing Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze of their plans for the meeting, tentatively scheduled for late November.
Shevardnadze indicated Moscow's plans for a human rights conference at the opening of the review session for signatory countries of the Helsinki accords in Vienna last year.
The conference is expected to review the human rights situation in all of the 35 countries that signed the 1975 accords. The date has not been set.
The United States and other western countries have raised questions about Moscow's willingness to allow Soviet and other activists to stage protests or lobby participants at the conference or guarantee that the Moscow setting will be conducive to a free and open exchange of ideas and information on human rights.
The seminar would be the first gathering of its kind to take place in the Soviet Union. It highlights the significance Soviet activists attach to the proposed human rights conference, Timofeyev said in an interview. "We think that such a conference will either be a very positive development or a disaster," he said.
Dissident groups and individuals and independent activists from all of the signatories of the Helsinki accords, including East and West European countries as well as the United States and the Soviet Union are invited, Timofeyev said. Polish opposition activists Adam Michnik and Lech Walesa and activists from other East European countries are expected to attend, planners of the seminar said.
Groups, such as Amnesty International are also invited, they said.
They added that participation could include several hundred individuals. "If a government wants to send a group, that's okay. The main point is that it be an independent group," Timofeyev said.
Many of the organizers of the seminar are former Soviet political prisoners released in the mass pardon granted by the Supreme Soviet in February, including Sergei Grigoryants, editor of the independent magazine Glasnost.
Soviet dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov has also supported the idea of the seminar, Timofeyev said.
In addition to establishing the conditions under which a human rights conference should be held, the seminar should address how the decisions of the conference will be put into practice in all the member countries, Timofeyev said.
"It will also seek to rid the conference of all the propaganda that is still attached to human rights questions around here," he said. "For instance," he added, "we make a legitimate inquiry about a political prisoner here, and we get a response with a question about an American Indian in jail in the States. This approach is not serious. Getting rid of it will help all sides."
Timofeyev, 51, is an economist who published many official works. He was arrested in 1985 for critical articles on the Soviet economy published in Israel and West Germany and was sentenced to six years in a strict-regime labor camp. Since his release in February he has been actively involved in political organizing.