4.1 The trial of the Red Square demonstrators

No 4 : 31 October 1968

As reported in the third issue of the Chronicle, on 25 August 1968, at 12 noon, seven people staged a sit-down demonstration at the Place of Proclamation [Lobnoe mesto] on Red Square, as a protest against the sending of Soviet troops into Czechoslovakia. Six of them — Konstantin Babitsky, Larissa Bogoraz, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremlyuga, Victor Fainberg and Pavel Litvinov — were arrested.

The seventh, Natalya Gorbanevskaya, was not arrested, as she is the mother of two small children. She gave details of the demonstration in her letter of 28 August [see 3.3], sent to several Western newspapers. On 5 September a forensic-psychiatric examination of Natalya Gorbanevskaya, under the direction of Professor Daniil Lunts, pronounced her of unsound mind. The Moscow Procuracy closed the case that had been initiated against her and entrusted her to the care of her mother.

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The demonstrators were charged under Article 190-3 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, which covers group activities disturbing public order, and Article 190-1, which deals with deliberate fabrications that discredit the Soviet social and political system. The reason for this last accusation was the wording of the placards displayed by the demonstrators: FOR YOUR FREEDOM AND OURS, DOWN WITH THE OCCUPIERS, FREEDOM FOR DUBCEK, HANDS OFF CZECHOSLOVAKIA, and LONG LIVE FREE AND INDEPENDENT CZECHOSLOVAKIA.

From 9 to 11 October 1968 the Moscow City Court examined the cases of Konstantin Babitsky, Larissa Bogoraz, Vadim Delaunay, Vladimir Dremlyuga and Pavel Litvinov in the building of the Proletarsky district people’s court.

Judge Lubentsova presided over the court proceedings; the other members of the court [people’s assessors] were Bulgakov and Popov.

The State Prosecutor was the Moscow Assistant Procurator, Drel.

The accused were defended as follows:

Konstantin Babitsky by the lawyer [Yu.B.] Pozdeyev, Vadim Delone by [Sofia] Kallistratova, Vladimir Dremlyuga by [N.A.] Monakhov, and Pavel Litvinov by [Dina] Kaminskaya.

Larissa Bogoraz refused counsel and conducted her own defence.

The defendants and their lawyers filed a number of petitions:

1. For the calling of additional witnesses, because the court had called only those witnesses presented by the prosecution, and there were scarcely any among them whose evidence at the pre-trial investigation had coincided with the explanations of the accused. The court agreed to the representations as regards the calling of three [additional] witnesses out of seven. Tatyana Bayeva, for example, was not called; she had been detained on Red Square on 25 August, together with the demonstrators. Bayeva had been searched and called previously many times for interrogation as a witness. It was made clear in court, although she herself knew nothing about it, that a criminal charge had been brought against her and then dropped. Nevertheless the court did not consider her an eye-witness of the events under consideration.

2. For the postponement of the case for further investigation, which would be aimed at establishing the identity of the people who snatched the placards and beat and detained the demonstrators, i.e. the identity of those people who had really disturbed public order in Red Square on 25 August 1968. The accused had made this request at the time of the pre-trial investigation, but the investigating organs claimed then that they had no information about these people. The court also rejected the request. Meanwhile, on the very first day of the hearing, when these requests were made, the person who had knocked out Fainberg’s teeth was seen near the court building, and evidence to this effect was presented to the court.

3. For the postponement of the case until the completion of the forensic-psychiatric examination of Victor Fainberg. In the petition it was stated that there was no reason to separate his case and trial from the others; this request was also rejected.

4. For the admission to the courtroom of relatives and friends of the defendants. Only relatives (and then only some) had been allowed into the courtroom; some, allowed in on the first (lay, were told by the police on the second day, “Yesterday it was your turn, but today some other relatives have come.” Pavel Litvinov’s wife [Maya Rusakovskaya] was detained near the court building on 10 October until it was almost evening, and then she was only allowed in after repeated requests from Litvinov himself and his lawyer.

All the circumstances of the formally open trial differed little from those well known through previous ‘open’ trials. The friends and sympathizers not allowed into the courtroom froze outside in the rain and early autumn snow. State security agents in plain clothes, members of Komsomol security units [operotryady] and Likhachyov factory volunteer police [druzhinniki] (neither of the latter two wearing armbands), eavesdropped on conversations, photographed those present — all of which created an atmosphere of provocation. But not one of the provocations succeeded, even though the local population had been dragged into their organization: the inhabitants of the nearest houses had been informed beforehand that currency offenders were being tried, a clever manoeuvre to instil into simple people hostility to the friends of the accused. And on 10 October, a large number of drunken louts, amongst them an unusually high proportion of drunken women, began to arrive at the court building. It transpired that numerous bottles of vodka had been placed on a table in a nearby yard and free ‘refreshments’ were being served.

About fifteen relatives of the accused were allowed into the court building through the main entrance, but then those outside were informed that the courtroom was full to bursting. All the other people present in the courtroom — journalists from several Soviet papers, representatives of the CPSU Central Committee, its Moscow City Committee, the KGB, the Procuracy, and the security group members, i.e. around sixty people — had reached the courtroom through the yard, by the back entrance, preferring not to enter the building under the gaze of the assembled crowd. The relatives of the defendants were later not permitted to leave the building during the adjournment, under the threat that their seats would then be occupied.

In the course of the judicial investigation the groundlessness of the charges became even more obvious. A group of five men who had detained the demonstrators stood out among the principal prosecution witnesses. These five, serving in the same military unit 1164, happened to be in Red Square on 25 August simultaneously and without prior arrangement and helped to detain the demonstrators; at the pre-trial investigation they gave evidence that the activities of the demonstrators had disturbed public order. On the very first day, under cross-examination, these people became confused in their statements about their previous acquaintance with one another. Apparently for this reason, on the second day the three who had not been questioned the first day turned out to be ‘absent on business’ and the court decided not to question them, despite the protests of the defendants and their counsel. Another witness for the prosecution was Oleg Davidovich, an official of the notorious Mordovian strict-regime labour camps [see 6.10]: despite both the fact that the description of the demonstration in his statements differed from all the other evidence, and that he recalled the time as 12.30-12.40 p.m. and claimed to have entered Red Square from the GUM department-store (which, as everyone knows, is closed on Sundays), his evidence served as one of the major planks in the prosecution’s case.

The local traffic policeman who was called as a witness is also interesting: his evidence is important in clarifying the question of whether the working of public transport was disrupted. On 25 August this policeman submitted to his superiors a report on what had occurred, without any reference to a disruption of transport. On 3 September he submitted a new report stating that there had been a disruption. As was proved in court, between 25 August and 3 September he had been called to the KGB [see 5.5].

The accused pleaded not guilty. The examination of the defendants, their closing speeches and the speeches of the defence counsel convincingly proved the absence of any criminality in the activities of the demonstrators.

Procurator Drel devoted the major part of his prosecution speech to the events in Czechoslovakia, while the defendants were interrupted every time they referred to these events in order to describe the motives of their actions or explain the wording of their slogans.

The Procurator demanded three years’ imprisonment for Vladimir Dremlyuga and two years’ for Vadim Delaunay. To the two years for Delone should be added an earlier suspended sentence of one year, of which he had served more than seven months during the investigation (i.e. the total term of imprisonment would be 2 years 4 months). For the remaining defendants the Procurator proposed, in view of the fact that none of them had a previous record and that all three of them had children dependent on them, to invoke Article 43 of the General Section of the Russian Criminal Code ([mitigating circumstances] see Commentary, below) and sentence them not to detention but to exile: five years for Pavel Litvinov, four years for Larissa Bogoraz and three years for Konstantin Babitsky.

The court found the defendants guilty on both charges. As far as punitive measures were concerned, the court more than satisfied the demands of the Procurator. Vadim Delaunay, who had said in his closing speech, “I appeal to this court not for mercy, but for restraint,” received six months longer in the camps than the Procurator had proposed: 2 years 6 months plus 4 months of his unserved term, making a total of 2 years 10 months. The remaining defendants received terms in camp and exile in accordance with the demands of the Procurator.

The defendants and their counsel lodged appeals.

Exile for Babitsky, Bogoraz and Litvinov:
A short commentary

Articles 190-1 and 190-3 of the Russian Criminal Code provide for the following punitive measures: either imprisonment for up to three years, or corrective labour for up to one year, or a fine not exceeding 100 roubles.

Article 43 of the General Section of the Russian Criminal Code provides that

“the court, in consideration of the exceptional circumstances of a case and the personality of the guilty person, and deeming it necessary either to punish him less severely than the minimum limits envisaged by the law for the given crime, or to apply another, less severe, form of punishment, may permit such a mitigation but must provide an explanation of its reasons for so doing”.

Under the guise of applying Article 43, the court did not impose a less severe form of punishment, but took an average of the punitive provisions of Articles 190-1 and 190-3. Exile instead of imprisonment, as a result of the application of Article 43, is possible in those cases where a less severe form of punishment than imprisonment is not envisaged by a specific article (e.g. Articles 64-9, 71, 75, 76-81 et al). In this particular case, if the court felt it possible not to sentence the three defendants to imprisonment, it would have been logical to punish them by corrective labour or a fine.

Article 319 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure states:

“on the acquittal of the defendant, or on his release or exemption from punishment, or in the case of his being sentenced to a punishment not involving imprisonment, the court must, if the defendant is being held in custody, release him immediately in the courtroom.”

The verdict of the Moscow City Court stated that Babitsky, Bogoraz and Litvinov would be released from custody on arrival at their places of exile.

While awaiting the outcome of their appeals, all five continue to be held in custody in the Lefortovo Prison. Being kept in custody is the severest of the existing forms of restriction. Pavel Litvinov rightly remarked in his final speech that there was no need to apply this measure. After such an open act as the demonstration of 25 August 1968, it was certain that the demonstrators would not try to escape from the court and the police.