58.4 The Trial of Lev Regelson

No 58 : November 1980

From 22 to 24 September the Moscow City Court, presided over by Mironov, heard the case of Lev Lvovich Regelson (b. 1939; arrested 24 December 1979, CCE 55.2), a participant in the Christian Seminar, who was charged under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The prosecutor was Assistant Moscow Procurator S. N. Chistyakov who also prosecuted Velikanova (this issue, CCE 58.1), and the court-appointed defence counsel was lawyer L. M. Popov who also defended Gleb Yakunin (this issue CCE 58.3).

Regelson’s wife Ludmila Ivanova (CCE 54.1) learnt that Popov had been appointed her husband’s defence counsel only by chance and shortly before the trial opened. Investigator Kapayev had previously telephoned her in an attempt to persuade her to make an agreement with Popov, claiming that this was in accordance with her husband’s wishes. A week before the trial she called Popov to ask him to give her the date of the trial’s opening. After repeated refusals he eventually told her. She then warned Popov that she intended to engage a different defence counsel, at which he shouted: “You won’t succeed in ruining the trial!” and hung up.

The trial was held in the Moscow City Court building. Also present at the trial, apart from Regelson’s father and wife, was L. Poluektova (CCE 54.1), who was escorted in by a KGB officer who had searched her on entering. None of Regelson’s other friends, who had come to the court, was admitted, and foreign correspondents were similarly refused admission.

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The charges against Regelson consisted of letters and articles written by him between 1974 and 1979.

Regelson stated in court that he agreed with the indictment: the writings cited against him were openly anti-Soviet in character, and had been sent to the West in order to promote Western pressure on the domestic policy of our State and to change the position of religion in the USSR. In fighting against atheist propaganda he had in fact begun a struggle against the State. Regelson said that his faith in God was now strengthened, and he would now abstain from all political activity. He gave lengthy evidence. To the Judge’s question: “How did you reproduce the documents?” he replied that he typed the first set of copies, and then further copies were made by Yakunin. The meetings with foreigners were arranged by Yakunin. They had met at the homes of Voronel and Shragin. Yakunin had sent the documents to the West, through Natalya Solzhenitsyna, Tatyana Khodorovich and foreign tourists. (Regelson read out all his testimony and his answers to questions from sheets of paper.)

The first witness to be called was Victor Popkov, who entered the court under guard (see “The Trial of Yakunin”, this issue 58.3). He spoke in detail about the Christian Seminar (CCE 41, 43, 46, 49, 52), and said that the seminar met in the apartment of Father N. Gainov (a member of the Christian Committee to Defend Believers’ Rights in the USSR, CCE 54.1).

Victor Kapitanchuk, another member of the Committee, was then escorted into court (for his trial, see this issue, CCE 58.5). He confirmed that Regelson had been involved in the preparation and circulation of documents of the Christian Committee, and he condemned the Committee’s activities. He said he had once been visited by some foreigners brought by Vyacheslav Bakhmin. He took them to see Gainov, but then left. When asked about his acquaintance with foreign correspondents he replied that he had met Miletich. He had been introduced to Dakin by Regelson. He stated that he gave the Christian Committee’s documents to Poluektova, who circulated them. (Kapitanchuk, too, read out his testimony from sheets of paper.)

Witnesses Belyaeva and Muranova, who both live in Kemerovo [west Siberia], testified that one of them had received from Regelson a copy of his book and a magazine containing an article by him, which she had given to the other, who had burned them. One of them recalled that she had seen a copy of Solzhenitsyn’s The Calf and the Oak at Regelson’s home. “Enough, enough,” said the Judge, interrupting her.

Two former fellow-students of Regelson’s, Babushkina and Pogorelova, were also called as witnesses. They testified that after leaving Moscow University they saw Regelson on three occasions at meetings of former students of their group. Babushkina stated that Regelson had brought a copy of his book to one of these meetings. Everyone had been interested in it, since Regelson was the only believer in their group. Pogorelova gave similar evidence, but said that Regelson’s book professed an alien ideology (in fact she could not remember in which language the book she had seen was written).

Galtsev, another former fellow-student of Regelson, and Father Alexander Men were also questioned.

Yakunin’s testimony was read out in court, as “he could not attend owing to illness” (at the time he was held in Lefortovo Prison, unaware that Regelson’s trial was in progress). His testimony referred to the joint signing of letters, and confirmed that Regelson was the author of the documents he had signed. He stated that a press conference had been organized at the flat of Dmitry Dudko with the latter’s knowledge, and he gave the names of those who had attended, including the foreign correspondents invited by Yakunin (most of whom had already left the USSR).

A detailed testimony given by V. Kovalenko was also read out. He had acted as interpreter at the press conference. Similarly, the testimony of V. Prilutsky, a former colleague of Regelson’s, was read out. Prilutsky stated that Regelson had given him the text of some letter. The records of a number of searches were also read out.

In his speech the procurator asked the court to give Regelson a five-year suspended sentence, since he had fully repented of his activities and had helped the investigators to uncover important State crimes.

Defence counsel related his impressions of the accused from meetings with him, and spoke approvingly of his character. He stated that at first Regelson had not given any testimony to the investigators, but later admitted responsibility for the composition of the documents cited against him, although refusing to acknowledge them as anti-Soviet, Afterwards he had agreed to this too. He had thus trodden a difficult and agonizing path. Popov did not consider Regelson socially dangerous and believed that he could remain at liberty.

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In his final speech Regelson again acknowledged his guilt, and admitted that his anti-Soviet activities had been due to spiritual vanity.

He had wished to suffer and be persecuted by provoking the authorities with his anti-Soviet activities. Now he understood that this was due to lack of faith and a misunderstanding of Christian teaching. He distinguished between his religious and his anti-Soviet activities, and intended to convince other believers of the necessity of such a distinction. He realized that the Soviet authorities were not hostile to religion, and hoped, in view of his changed opinions, to persuade Vladimir Poresh (for his trial, see CCE 57.1) and Alexander Ogorodnikov (this issue, CCE 58.6) to alter their position and thereby improve their lot. His sentence was five years, suspended.

Regelson was released from custody in the courtroom.

As he left the court he told the foreign correspondents who were waiting for him: “I am prepared to go to prison for Christ, but I am not prepared to go to prison for the human rights movement.” The trial was recorded on film.

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On 29 or 30 September Popkov had a meeting with Regelson in Lefortovo Prison. Regelson tried to persuade him to adopt his position, but Popkov said that he could not fully agree with him.

At this point investigators Yakovlev and Kapayev entered. On learning that Popkov would not agree with Regelson they said that there were materials against Popkov which constituted grounds for prosecution under Article 70. Since his release Regelson has maintained contact with the KGB.

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In 1961 Lev Regelson graduated from the Faculty of Physics at Moscow University. He then began work in a research institute. In 1965 he was baptized. In 1971, together with Kapitanchuk, F. Karelin and Father N. Gainov, he sent a study-paper to the Assembly of the Russian Orthodox Church criticizing the teaching of Metropolitan Nikodim (Rotov) and other hierarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church, who were trying to introduce elements of communist ideology into Orthodox dogma.

In 1974 he wrote an open letter protesting against the exile of Solzhenitsyn. In 1975 he published a book in samizdat which was later published by the YMCA Press [in Paris in Russian] under the title The Tragedy of the Russian Church, 1917-1945. For further information on the joint activities of Regelson and Yakunin between the years 1975-1979, see “The Trial of Yakunin” (this issue, CCE 58.3).

In the years 1978-1979 Regelson was actively involved in the work of the Christian Seminar, at which he delivered papers on dogmatic theology and modem theological problems.