11.11 The trial of Genrikh Altunyan

No 11 : 31 December 1969

On 26 November the trial of Genrikh Altunyan was held in Kharkov. A radio technician, Altunyan held the rank of major until he was demoted. He is a member of the Action Group for Civil Rights in the USSR [see 8.10] and the father of two children. When arrested, Altunyan was charged under Article 62 of the Ukraine SSR Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 70 of RSFSR Code), Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda. After the pre-trial investigation the charge under article 62 was replaced by one under Article 187-1 of the Ukrainian Criminal Code (equivalent to Article 190-1 of the Russian Code), covering the manufacture and circulation of documents which contain deliberate fabrications and discredit the Soviet political and social system.

Fifteen witnesses were questioned at the trial, including eight witnesses for the defence. The court was shown manuscripts, letters and rough notebooks confiscated from Altunyan during a search. The trial was open, but the courtroom, as is always the case at such trials, was filled before the start of the hearing with a specially chosen audience.

Trukhin was the Procurator, Klyuchko the Judge and Ariya the defence lawyer.

The following were cited as evidence incriminating Altunyan:

1.         a conversation with one of the witnesses for the prosecution in which Altunyan condemned the invasion of Czechoslovakia by troops from the Warsaw Pact countries, and welcomed the Red Square demonstration of 25 August 1968. He also said that the State practised anti-Semitism in our country;

2.         the unfinished rough draft of a letter from Altunyan to the Moscow conference of communist parties, in which he protested against the dismissal from their jobs of people who had signed the letter to the United Nations. As Altunyan explained at the trial, he had given up the idea of writing this letter after he had checked the facts. The Procurator referred in his prosecution speech to the fact that information from Altunyan’s draft letter had been published in foreign newspapers, thereby implying that Altunyan had given this information to the Western press;

3.         preparing the final page of the transcript of an address [on the crisis in the Soviet economy] given by Academician Aganbegyan to employees of the Mysl publishing-house (written in Altunyan’s handwriting). At the pre-trial investigation Aganbegyan, who had been called as a witness, had stated that he had never said anything of the sort, and that the document certainly constituted a libel against the Soviet political and social system. Aganbegyan did not appear in court, although he had been summoned as a witness for the prosecution. After deliberating without retiring, the court resolved that the trial could continue in his absence. Under questioning Altunyan explained that he had lost the last page of the transcript and had attempted to reconstruct it from memory;

4.         composing and signing a letter in defence of P. G. Grigorenko;

5.         signing the letter to the UN (Altunyan is a member of the Action Group for Civil Rights in the USSR);

6.        signing a letter to the conference of communist and workers’ parties in Moscow in June 1969.

The Procurator’s prosecuting speech enumerated all the charges as falling under Article 70, even going as far as to state that Altunyan had committed particularly dangerous crimes against the State (regardless of the fact that Altunyan had actually been charged under Article 190-1 and not under Article 70). Procurator Trukhin demanded that the accused be imprisoned for three years.

In his speech, the defence lawyer, Ariya, did not contest points 4, 5 and 6 of the indictment, but maintained that the documents were not deliberately false, since the defendant, Altunyan, genuinely believed the statements in them to be true. He rejected the first three charges as unfounded. Concluding his speech, he appealed to the court to punish the defendant, Altunyan, in some way not entailing imprisonment.

Altunyan pleaded not guilty. In his final plea he declared that he always had fought and always would fight against manifestations of Stalinism in our country.

In sentencing Altunyan to three years in an ordinary-regime camp, the court based its judgment on the fact that Altunyan, a man with a higher education, could not fail to appreciate the libellous nature of the incriminating documents, especially as he had been warned repeatedly by state and  Party organs about his illegal activities, as expressed in the composing and signing of the documents cited by the prosecution. The sentence repeated in full the indictment.

The court made a separate resolution concerning all the defence witnesses who, like Altunyan, had signed the letter in defence of Grigorenko and the appeal to the UN: [Vladislav] Nedobora [see 13.4], Karasik, [Vladimir] Ponomaryov, [Arkady] Levin [see 13.5], Lifshits, Kalinovsky, Podolsky and Kornilov. Their cases were assigned for separate legal treatment. At the same time Irkha, a prosecution witness and  Party worker at the military academy where Altunyan taught, actually stated in court that it was not yet certain whether the rehabilitation of Army Commander I. Yakir had been justified.

On 23 December, in Kiev, the appeal hearing took place in the case of Genrikh Altunyan. His friends were not allowed into the courtroom, and were told that the hearing would be held in camera. The third charge was struck from the sentence, together with the words ‘Altunyan committed particularly dangerous crimes’. The term of imprisonment was left unchanged.