22.7 Appeals in Defence of Human Rights

No 22 : 10 November 1971

[1]

On 24 October Pyotr Yakir addressed a letter to G. Pompidou and L. I. Brezhnev, [28] expressing his belief that the Paris talks would lead to further progress in the consolidation of peace on earth and in relations between France and the USSR.

Yakir then expresses his opinion that one of the obstacles to mutual understanding and respect is the persecution of dissenters in the USSR, which he describes as a survival of the Stalin period which could be eradicated on the firm basis of the resolutions of the 20th Party Congress [1956], “It is all the more painful,” he says at the end of the letter, “to be aware that hundreds of our contemporaries are forced to endure the frightful conditions of prisons and camps only because their political and philosophical beliefs are at variance with the official line.”

In a postscript the author of the letter lists the names of persons known to him who are at present in prisons, camps, exile and psychiatric hospital-prisons for their political beliefs. He also mentions K. Bryantsev’s article “False friends in the quagmire of slander” in Izvestia, 23 October 1971, [29] “which attempts to justify the vicious ways used to confine healthy people in psychiatric hospitals for their beliefs”; in this connection he expresses doubt about the possibility of an objective psychiatric examination of V. Bukovsky (see CCE 18 and the present issue), and on whether Bukovsky and N. Yemelkina (see CCE 20), who acted in defence of Bukovsky and other political prisoners in the USSR, could possibly be acquitted. [30]

[2]

Appeal by V. Chalidze to the Presidium of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet

Analysing the circumstances surrounding the arrest of J. Zdebskis, the author comes to the conclusion that the actions of Zdebskis, a Roman Catholic priest (see CCE 21 and [News in Brief in] present issue, 22.//), did not infringe any of the laws in force in the Soviet Union, while his arrest, on the other hand, not only violated the Convention on the Struggle against Discrimination in the Field of Education, which the USSR has ratified, but was also a criminally punishable act within the terms of Article 145 of the Lithuanian Criminal Code [which penalizes obstruction of the performance of religious rites].

The author expresses the hope that “the Presidium will study the national and international guarantees of the rights of believers, and exercise its right to quash the prosecution of Zdebskis”.

[3]

Letter from Chalidze to Rene Maillot, Director-General of UNESCO.

In connection with his letter in defence of J. Zdebskis, V. Chalidze informs Maillot that experience has convinced him “of the absence in the USSR of an effective procedure for applying the norms of this Convention to the examination of local cases” and asks for elucidation of “the measures taken by the Soviet Union to safeguard legislatively and administratively the rights proclaimed by the Convention” and of “the consultative methods open to UNESCO to assist individual countries in taking steps to implement those rights”; he expresses the hope that such elucidation will help him “to make more competent attempts to promote further progress in this field” (24 October 1971).

[4]

Letter from V. Chalidze to the Ukrainian Supreme Court on the case of Reiza Palatnik. [31]

Pointing out that the sentence of the Odessa court in the case of R. Palatnik (see CCE 17, 20) was based on the fact that certain works by A. Akhmatova, L. Chukovskaya, A. Galich and O. Mandelstam were judged to be criminal, the author puts this question to the Ukrainian Supreme Court: “Will you confirm an unjust sentence, or will you acquit R. Palatnik, Mandelstam, Akhmatova? . . . ” (31 July 1971).

[5]

Press statement by V. Chalidze

The statement announces that “in the first half of 1971 the Committee for Human Rights in Moscow studied a number of documents on the problem of the rights of persons judged to be mentally ill, viz. a report by R[oy] Medvedev [brother of Zhores; see CCE 14] and the comments of A. Volpin and V. Chalidze”.

“The Committee considers it essential to take account in a constructive way of the vagueness of the concept of mental illness when applying normative procedures for restricting the rights of such persons.” “The Committee noted that inadequate guarantees of the rights of the mentally ill create the danger of Human Rights being violated with the object of discrediting unorthodox scientific, social, political and philosophical ideas by judging the originators of such ideas to be mentally ill.”

The Committee has appealed to a number of Soviet organisations and to the Fifth World Congress of Psychiatrists [32] to do all they can to improve the guarantees of the rights under discussion. The statement reports that all the Committee’s documents mentioned in it are published in issue No. 11 of the [unofficial] journal Social Problems (see CCE 21.//)

(10 September 1971). [33]

[5]

Open Appeal by A. D. Sakharov to members of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet.

The author recalls “the tragic events arising in connection with the difficulties in leaving the USSR experienced by citizens who wish to emigrate to another country, and the legal, social, psychological and political aspects of this problem”, the heavy sentences passed in the cases “of those who, having lost all hope of achieving their ambitions within the framework of the law, resolve to break it in one way or another”.

In this connection he mentions the Leningrad case of the attempted hi-jacking of an aeroplane, the case of Simas Kudirka [see CCE 18-22] and the case of Dmitry Mikheyev and the Swiss national Francois de Perregaux [see CCE 21, also Possev 10, 1971, pp. 8-9] and the fact that persons wishing to emigrate find themselves in the position of “second-class” citizens in matters concerning the exercise of their rights (here the cases of R. Palatnik and V. Kukui are mentioned).

He calls on the recipients of the Appeal to show initiative in seeking [1] a solution to this problem in a democratic spirit, [2] the amendment of the article of the Criminal Code dealing with betrayal of the fatherland, in such a way as to preclude the unwarranted expansion of this concept, [3] an amnesty for all citizens convicted in connection with attempts to leave the country, and [4] the release from compulsory treatment in mental hospitals of persons placed in them for the same reason. [34]

[6]

On 24 October 1971 V. Chalidze wrote to Shchelokov, USSR Minister of Internal Affairs

He asked him to explain to Garkushov, commandant of camp ZhKh-385/17a (Ozyorny settlement), Colonel Platonov, who carried out an inspection of the camp in the summer of this year, and Sergeant Kashirsky that according to the Constitution citizens of the USSR are guaranteed freedom of worship.

This term must obviously be understood to include the performance of all the ritual and ethical ordinances of one’s religion, and that citizens may be restricted in this respect only if they violate public order or encroach upon the rights of others. Chalidze made this appeal after receiving a letter from prisoner [Joseph] Mendelevich [see CCE 17, 19-21], which said that on 27 July, after Platonov and Garkushov had expressed displeasure at the fact that Mendelevich wore a skull-cap, Kashirsky had torn the skullcap from his head. Chalidze’s letter draws attention to a number of other instances of the infringement of prisoners’ rights in connection with their desire to perform religious rituals (in particular, restrictions on their receiving religious books).

Though remarking that in his reasoning he prefers to employ legal arguments, Chalidze nevertheless considers it worthwhile also to refer “to considerations of social usefulness: the basic aim of Soviet penal policy is the re-education of the prisoner. With this in mind, it is clear that an uncultured person (or institution) can have no claim to the authority of an educator. But the ability to respect the beliefs and ethical standards of others is a fundamental mark of culture. It is doubtful whether convicts being educated will regard an administrator as a cultured man if he is incapable of recognising the right (and religious obligation) of a Jew to wear a skull-cap, of a Muslim to cover his face with a cloth while sleeping, should solitude be unattainable, of a Christian to wear a cross, and so on.

Any constructive steps in defence of the right of prisoners to practise their religion”, V. Chalidze concludes his letter, “would be wise and humane, and would conform to international legal recommendations (see, for example, the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, a resolution of a UN Congress, [35] 1955).”

NOTES

[28. See extracts from Yakir’s also in a New York Times dispatch of 25 October.]

[29. Bryantsev’s article appeared in the evening Moscow edition, which is distributed abroad carrying the date of a day later, in this case 24 October.]

[30. Yemelkina was sentenced to five years’ exile on 24 November, and arrived in the Siberian town of Yeniseisk on 16 January 1972.]

[31. Reiza Palatnik’s sister Katya reported in a letter to Golda Meir and the UN Human Rights Commission that she had recently carried out a 5-day hunger-strike in protest at the terrible sanitary conditions and the anti-Semitism in her camp. See a UPI dispatch of 10 December 1971.]

[32. Text of appeal to the Fifth World Congress of Psychiatrists in The Times, 23 October 1971.]

[33. Nos. 1-8 of Social Problems will be published soon by the International Institute for the Rights of Man, Strasbourg; and no. 11 will also soon appear. Other issues have not yet reached the West.]

[34. See full text of Sakharov’s appeal in Possev 10, 1971, p. 5, and slightly abbreviated translation in the International Herald Tribune, Paris, 11 October.]

[35. I.e. UN Document A/CONF/6/1, Annex I.A., endorsed by UNESCO on 31 July 1957. See Everyman’s United Nations, New York, 1964, p. 297.]