6.1 The trial of Irina Belogorodskaya

No 6 : 28 February 1969

On 19 February Irina Belogorodskaya was tried in Moscow. As reported in the third issue of the Chronicle [see 3.1], Belogorodskaya, an engineer at the Scientific Research Institute of the State Committee for Inventions, was arrested on the night of 7-8 August 1968, in connection with the distribution of a letter defending Anatoly Marchenko.

Belogorodskaya’s arrest and the preceding searches of her flat and those of three of the other signatories to the letter – Larissa Bogoraz, Ludmila Alexeyeva, and Victor Krasin – resulted from the fact that, on the night of 6-7 August, Belogorodskaya left behind in a taxi a bag containing her documents and several dozen copies of the letter defending Marchenko. The bag was handed over to the KGB, who also conducted the searches, arrested Belogorodskaya and started the investigation, after which the case was passed to the Moscow Procuracy. The investigation into Belogorodskaya’s case was conducted by L.S. Akimova. At the end of August and during September L.S. Akimova led the team which investigated the demonstration on Red Square of 25 August 1968, but this is only one of the reasons why the investigation was unjustifiably dragged out.

The Procuracy received a declaration by the signatories to the letter defending Marchenko, to the effect that they bore full responsibility for the letter, which they had written to acquaint the public with Marchenko’s fate. Almost all the signatories to the letter – except for P.G. Grigorenko and Pavel Litvinov – were interrogated as witnesses in connection with their letter and also with their declaration relating to the arrest of Belogorodskaya. It would be natural to suppose that if the indictment considered the documents in question to constitute the substance of a crime under Article 190-1 of the RSFSR Criminal Code, i.e. to contain deliberately misleading fabrications which discredit the Soviet social and political system, then they would have brought to justice the signatories to the letter as well, particularly since none of them denied their part in distributing the letter.

Nevertheless, Irina Belogorodskaya was brought to trial for attempting to distribute these letters, and not one of the signatories to the letter was called as a witness and given the chance to refute the charge that the said documents contained deliberate lies and in their “deliberately misleading contents” discredited the Soviet political and social system. This is a serious breach of Article 20 of the RSFSR Code of Criminal Procedure, which states: “The court, the Procurator, the investigator and the person conducting the inquiry are obliged to take all the measures laid down by law to ensure a full, thorough and objective investigation into the circumstances of the case, to examine the arguments both for and against the accused and also the circumstances which caused the crime to be committed.” The investigator, when he signed the indictment, had proposed that the court should call three witnesses: Ivan Rudakov, who had been travelling with Belogorodskaya in the taxi; the taxi-driver, Kudryavtsev; and Surkova, the controller of the taxi pool – thus limiting the scope of the trial to the discovery of copies of the letter in the bag, and leaving aside the document itself, the intentions of the signatories and their conviction of the truthfulness of all that they had written. The Procurator, on receiving the case from the investigator, sent it straight to court, likewise ignoring this flagrant breach of Article 20 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure and associating himself with it. Moreover, the administrative session of the court, which had the opportunity of extending the list of witnesses to be called, did not do so. Thus the conduct of the court hearing precluded the possibility of a “full, thorough and objective investigation of the circumstances of the case”, and the right of the accused to defend herself was artificially limited.

One may suppose that all this served two purposes. The first is mentioned in the letter written not long before the trial by P. G. Grigorenko and Anatoly Yakobson. This was the purpose of provocation: by arresting and sentencing someone who is doing what is possible to help those who actively defend human rights and civil liberties in our country, to frighten many people off from taking any part in the democratic movement. The second aim was to complicate the defence of Irina Belogorodskaya, to force her to judge the element of criminality in the document and to confuse her. Her clear position was that she wanted to distribute these documents to help Anatoly Marchenko, and had complete faith in the signatories to the letter and the truthfulness of the documents. A discussion of the content of the documents, and a judgment on their “deliberate falsehood” could have been reliably obtained only by questioning the signatories to the letter; all this was replaced by the interrogation of the accused. Just the same, the interrogation failed to prove the deliberate falsehood of the document or that Belogorodskaya considered it to be false. Nevertheless the verdict stated that, in intending to distribute these documents, she had known them to be false.

The court, presided over by Judge Monakhov, found Irina Belogorodskaya guilty of “an attempt, which failed for reasons beyond her control, to distribute deliberately misleading falsehoods defaming the Soviet social and political system” – i.e. under Articles 190-1 and 15 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. “Taking into account a good character report from her place of employment”, it sentenced her to one year’s confinement in an ordinary-regime camp.

The circumstances in the court building were familiar from all previous “open” trials, but perhaps a little less severe. Despite the fact that, as usual, the courtroom was already crammed full when the court building opened, some of the defendant’s friends managed to get in. Dozens of those who had assembled outside saw Irina Belogorodskaya and greeted her. When, after the verdict, she was led off to the Black Maria, bunches of flowers flew towards her from the crowd, who were standing behind a line of policemen and people in plain clothes. Her escort tore from her hands the only bunch which she caught and threw it away, and a guard in plain clothes promptly trampled on it with hatred.

There is already a summary record of the trial of Irina Belogorodskaya by P.G. Grigorenko in samizdat. The compiler of the record adds his own comments. One of the most important conclusions of this commentary is the following:

In our society it is forbidden to stand up for those people who are, rightly or wrongly, assaulted by the state machine. For a mere signature in defence of an innocent man who has been convicted, or in protest against national discrimination, e.g. against the Crimean Tatars, people are subjected to lawless repression. This too is a hangover from the Stalin era, except that then people were put in prison for such a “crime”, even if they had only expressed their opinion orally, whereas now the authorities have so far limited themselves to relieving people of their jobs, expelling them from the Party or the Komsomol, or driving them out of higher educational institutions. I. Belogorodskaya is the first to have been brought to trial for this … and we, her friends, must think things over thoroughly after her trial. It seems to me that the fight against unjust sentences must in present circumstances become more persistent … To stop judicial tyranny such sentences must be fought against until they are actually revoked.”


On the same day the trial of the mathematician Ilya Burmistrovich [see 8.2] was due to take place in the Timiryazev district court building [in Moscow]. He was arrested in May 1968 and also accused under Article 190-1, with the difference that the investigation was carried out by the KGB. There can be no doubt that, by arranging two similar trials on the same day, the organizers were hoping to distract public attention from at least one of them. There was unrestricted entry to the court building on Pistsovaya Street, where Anatoly Marchenko had been tried in August, and the public was freely admitted to the courtroom; even foreign correspondents came and occupied the empty seats. Later it was announced that the judge had fallen ill and the trial was being postponed. Ilya Burmistrovich was taken back to Lefortovo Prison. A new date for the trial has not yet been announced.

In the cases of Belogorodskaya and Burmistrovich the right of the accused as regards their defence has been flagrantly violated: at the time of the completion of the pre-trial investigation the KGB and the Procuracy announced that only a lawyer with “clearance” would be allowed to defend the accused.

Clearance” is only required in cases involving state or military secrets, and so it is also illegal that only lawyers with “clearance” are allowed for all cases brought under Articles 64 and 70 and other articles in the section of the Code concerning “Particularly dangerous crimes against the State”. There can be no reason whatsoever, therefore, for demanding “clearance” for cases brought under Article 190-1.

The use of “clearance” and “withdrawal of clearance” are becoming a means of exerting pressure on the conscience of lawyers.