23.3 Hunger Strikes by Political Prisoners

No 23 : 5 January 1972

DUBROVLAG  [see Map 3] (Potma, Mordovskaya ASSR)

On 1 May 1971 Yu. [P.] Fyodorov, who is serving a fifteen-year term in connection with the Leningrad “aeroplane” case [see CCE 17.6], declared a week-long hunger-strike in protest against his sentence and against the lack of any reaction to his appeals by the supervisory bodies [e.g., the procuracy]. Fyodorov did, however, turn out for work. On this occasion the administration used threats, expressing particular regret that the hunger strike had been announced on a national holiday.

Murzhenko (term 15 years, also an “aeroplane” case man) was not allowed a meeting with his wife Lyuba. Here are some lines from a note received by her from him:

“Dear Anechka and Lyuba!

Since 18 November I have been on hunger strike, in protest at my illegal deprivation of a meeting with you. I will continue the hunger strike until they allow the meeting, although my head is already spinning and I can write only with difficulty. Will I really not see you?” . . .

In an Open Letter on the eve of Human Rights Day [10 December] addressed to the deputies of the USSR Supreme Soviet and the UN Human Rights Commission, eight political prisoners (V. Abankin, N. Bondar, G. Gavrilov, N. Ivanov, V. Pavlenkov, Yu. Fyodorov, A. Chekhovskoi and I. Kandyba ) described in detail the lawlessness to which they, their families, and many Soviet citizens who share their fate were being subjected. [88] At the end of the letter they say:

“Citizen Deputies! … On the 23rd anniversary of Freedom Day [i.e. of the Declaration of Human Rights] we, Soviet political prisoners, appeal to you, and demand:

(1)       The observance by the Soviet government of those international and Soviet laws which do not contradict general democratic principles, e.g., those contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Constitution of the USSR, the Abolition of Forced Labour Convention, etc. [84 9?]

(2)       That Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code, and of the corresponding articles of the criminal codes of the other union republics, be ruled to be anti-constitutional and contrary to the international legal obligations undertaken by the government of the USSR, and also requires a review of all the cases of people sentenced under these articles.

(3)       An immediate end to the persecution of people for propagating their views and convictions, except in the case of those views and convictions which contradict international legal conventions.

(4)       An immediate end to the persecution of people for propagating ideas of national self-determination.

(5)       In the USSR not only Soviet, but also international legal norms are infringed. Therefore we appeal to the UN Human Rights Commission to send an international commission to Soviet concentration camps and prisons to study the real situation, and we demand that the Soviet government create all the conditions necessary for the commission to carry out its work freely.

(6)       We demand that you show initiative in working out a convention on “the regime for the confinement of political prisoners” and table it for adoption by the 27th session of the UN General Assembly.

(7)       In accordance with the working out and adoption of the above-mentioned convention we demand the immediate official recognition of us as political prisoners and the introduction of such conditions of detention as have become normal for people in this category in all civilized countries, namely: (a) voluntary labour and an immediate end to the system of paying for the camp and prison administrations out of the income of the political prisoners; (b) the removal of limitations on correspondence and meetings; (c) the removal of limitations on the receiving of literature; (d) the removal of limitations on the receiving of parcels and the purchasing of food products with one’s personal means; (e) the chance to do academic work and to study by correspondence at academic institutions; (f) the right to wear one’s own clothes and an end to the practice of having one’s head shaved bare, which humiliates one’s human dignity.

(8)       The immediate release of the mentally ill, of wounded people, of chronically and seriously ill people, and of women with young children.

(9)       The immediate abolition of all secret directives, and also of directives and regulations which contradict the law but are operating in the concentration camps and prisons.

(10)     An immediate end to the persecution in any form of our relatives, friends and acquaintances; and the punishment of the people who organize such persecution.

(11)     An end to all extra-judicial punishments – “administrative surveillance”, the ban on living in resort towns, etc. – as contradicting the USSR Constitution, international legal norms and elementary justice.

(12)     The preparation and declaration of a general political amnesty for people whose crimes are the result of the presence in the criminal codes of the Soviet Union Republics of articles which contradict the Declaration of Human Rights.

Deprived of the possibility to appeal to the governments of other countries, we, Soviet political prisoners, authorize the legislative organ of the USSR to demand in our name from the governments of those states which have political prisoners their immediate amnesty.

In support of OUR demands [85] we are exercising the only right which really exists for us – the right to a hunger strike, and we now announce one for December 8 to 10.

In December 1971 nine political prisoners – J. Silinskas, S. Kudirka, O. Frolov, P. Airikyan, S. Ponomaryov, A. Jastrauskas, S. Malchevsky, V. Platonov, and V. Rodionov  – appealed to the International Red Cross [86] in order to

 “draw the attention of the most representative international organization to our extremely severe situation and to ask for your intervention and help in combating the  tyranny and the methodical physical, mental and spiritual oppression which we are suffering.”

They describe the inhuman conditions in which political prisoners are held in the USSR: officially they are considered, by the way, as common criminals, although they are held separately from such people. The authors especially stress the inevitability of the repressions to which morally strong people are subjected when they defend their dignity and spiritual freedom (an example is the dispatch in spring 1971 to Vladimir Prison of the priest B. B. Zalivako). [87] This is true to an even greater degree as regards people who express active protests.

“In July 1970, in Camp 19, infuriated by the tyranny of the administration, 18 people carried out a Six-day hunger-strike in protest. [88] They were all immediately subjected to various repressions, and four of them –  N. Dragosh, N. Tarnavsky, V. Kulynin and S. Zatikyan [89] were transferred to Vladimir Prison … for participating in a hunger-strike with the aim of avoiding work.”

On 28 August [1971], also in Camp 19, fourteen prisoners of various nationalities, convictions and religious beliefs declared a hunger strike, demanding the quashing of an illegal decision by a court which had sentenced two of their comrades to be transferred to Vladimir Prison: one for “malicious infringement of the regime”, which consisted of “walking to the dining room out of line”, “walking about the camp territory in slippers”, “rising at reveille three minutes late”, and so on, and the other for refusing to surrender a manuscript and a booklet of religious content during the humiliating procedure of a body search. All of these people, also, were subjected to various repressions. [90]

Cases are then listed of the death of political prisoners because of the criminal negligence of the camp doctors, who carry out the orders of “the operations officials” (the death before the eyes of the medical personnel in winter 1969 of [Rashid] Dinmukhamedov, who had slit his veins in protest at the refusal to give him medical aid (see CCE 17 and also its Supplement 17.14//]; the suicide of [Juozas] Lankauskas, who had earlier been ruled of unsound mind but later transferred from the hospital to a camp [CCE 12.// and Supplement to 17.14//]; the murder by a guard of another mentally ill person, B. Zitkiavicius, who in summer 1967 entered the forbidden zone).

The letter reports that to mark the anniversary of the adoption by the UN of the Declaration of Human Rights many prisoners declared a hunger strike of protest from 8 to 10 December. At Camp-section 3/1, for example, 30 people took part in the strike, and the flag of the United Nations was flown, together with symbolic ribbons of mourning. The names of those who suffered repressions for this strike are given. Among those repressed were several of the authors of the letter.

The last words of the letter are: “We ask for help, we ask for your collaboration, we ask you to bring this appeal to the knowledge of world public opinion.”

[Commentary No 23]


23.3     Hunger Strikes by Political Prisoners

[83] For extracts, which add significantly to those given here, see The Times, 10 December 1971, and a Reuter dispatch of 9 December. On Gennady Gavrilov, a naval officer of 34, Nikolai Ivanov, an art historian of 34, Vladlen Pavlenkov, a history lecturer df 42, Yury I. Fyodorov, a formed MVD investigator of 35, and Ivan Kandyba, a Ukrainian lawyer of 41, see Reddaway, Uncensored Russia. On Bondar see “News in Brief” in this issue (CCE 23.//). Alexander K. Chekhovskoi, 24, and V. A. Abankin are both workers about whose cases little is yet known.

[84] See texts in Ian Brownlie, ed., Basic Documents on Human Rights, Oxford, 1971.]

[85] For detailed descriptions of the situation which provokes these demands see especially A. Marchenko, My Testimony, Penguin, 1971, and various documents in V. Chornovil, The Chornovil Papers and Michael Browne, Ferment in the Ukraine.

[86] For additional extracts see The Times, 31 December 1971, and a Reuter dispatch of 30 December. The Daily Telegraph, London, reported on 1 January 1972 that the Red Cross had not yet received the full text of the appeal, but that the President of its International Committee in Geneva, M. Marcel Naville, intended to study the question of political imprisonment in the USSR without delay.

On Sergei Ponomaryov, an arts graduate of 26, Sergei Malchevsky, an artillery-school graduate and taxi-driver of 36, and Vyacheslav Platonov, an orientalist of 30, see Reddaway, Uncensored Russia pp. 390-92, 480 and 376-80, the “Register of People Sentenced in the 1960’s”, and Possev: 9-yi spetsialnyi vypusk.

[86] … Frankfurt, October 1971, prisoners 85 and 62. On Simas Kudirka, a Lithuanian naval telegrapher of 42, Oleg Frolov, a student of 23, Paruir Airikyan (can also te transliterated Flairikyan), an Armenian student of 33, and Vyacheslav Rodionov, a carpenter of 26, see CCE 20, 12 and 14, 16 and 16 respectively, and the “Register”, prisoners 6 and 58. Jonas Silinskas is a Lithuanian student of 28, and A. A. Jastrauskas a Lithuanian worker of 29.

[87] On Boris Zalivako, aged 31, see CCE 17.

[88] On this strike see CCE 15, and Possev: Shestoi spetsialnyi vypusk, February 1971, p. 19.

[89] On Nikolai Dragosh, a headmaster of 39, and Nikolai Tarnavsky, a teacher of 31, see CCE 18 and 20 and the “Register”, prisoners 37 and 38. On Vasily Kulynin, a Ukrainian lathe-operator of 28, see CCE 17 and “Register”, prisoner 35. On Stepan Zatikyan, an Armenian student of 25 sentenced in 1968, see “Register”, prisoner 46, and CCE 18, which, however, erroneously suggests that he was sentenced at one of the Armenian trials described in CCE 16. In fact, Zatikyan’s group produced the paper Paros in 1968 or earlier, and later, at the second of these trials, in 1970, Airikyan was charged with having circulated it among his own group.

[90] See further details of this strike in CCE 22.// “News from the Mordovian Camps and Vladimir Prison”.