The release of a large group of political prisoners (February 1987)

<<USSR News Brief, 15 February 1987>>

During the first week in February 1987 a large group of political prisoners were released from the political camps, Chistopol Prison (Tatarstan) and internal exile.

[Note – Throughout 1987 there were often erroneous reports about the release of individuals who were still in the camps or in exile. In this and following reports during the year the names and surnames of those not yet released are underlined in the text and in the lists, ed.]

The prisoners or exiles were released on the basis of two edicts issued [in February 1987] by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet: Edict No 6463-xi concerned the pardoning of a listed  group of individuals; and Edict No 6462-xi concerned the release of another group “from continuing to serve their sentence”.

At a press conference on 11 February 1987, USSR Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov state that yet another decree concerning the release of the prisoners had been passed by the Presidium on 9 February 1987, but it has still not been published. Furthermore, no one has been freed since 9 February whose release could be linked to that decree.

The information we are receiving about the release of prisoners and exiles is quite contradictory. When this issue of USSR News Brief was due to appear, we knew of 34 individuals who have been released within the terms of the two Decrees.

[Note – One of those named in this report, Mikhail Kukobaka would not actually be released for another six weeks; all but two of the rest had served four years and less of a sentence of imprisonment in the camps or in Chistopol Prison.]

Other names have appeared in the press and agency reports. It was mistakenly announced that Genrikh Altunyan and Victor Nekipelov have been released. Others named have already reached the end of their sentences or were released earlier (Lagle Parek, Vadim Yankov and Antanas Terleckas).

There have also been reports about the release of five other prisoners – Belyakov, Dubinsky (or Dubensky), Gridnev, Pashtents [actually Arvo Pesti] and Georgy Kashlev. Either they are formerly unknown political prisoners, or their names have become distorted in transmission.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs
holds a press conference

At the aforementioned press conference, Gerasimov declared that 140 people had already been released and that “approximately the same number” were due for release.

The procurator who spoke to political prisoners from the Perm camps before their release, said that all who had been convicted under Article 70 (Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda) and the analogous laws in the Criminal Code of the other 14 Union Republics were due for release, as were those convicted under Article 64 (Treason)  who should have been prosecuted for “unlawful crossing of the border”, not for treason.  During that same conversation the procurator said the present Decrees issued by the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet would not apply to those being held in special-regime penal colonies.

We can state with confidence that 140 prisoners have not yet been released. Reports of the release of those listed above arrived during the first days after the 2 February 1987 Decree was adopted. Then the flow of new names almost came to a halt, which had nothing to do with difficulties in obtaining information. The number of those actually freed is still not clear. Before Sergei Grigoryants was released, Major Akhmadeyev, director of Chistopol Prison, showed him a list of those due for release. It contained 51 names. […]

At the press conference, Gerasimov said that all those released had appealed for a pardon to the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet. The situation, in reality, was far more complex and the true circumstances of these prisoners’ release were not entirely clear.

Certain political prisoners indeed applied for a pardon. It was suggested to the great majority that they adopt some kind of compromise formula and many wrote such appeals as “I did not commit and shall not commit State crimes”. For the signatory it was important to state that he (she) did not consider him/herself guilty; the authorities were keen to obtain her / his promise that she / he would not commit such crimes in future.

Some, evidently a minority, were not asked to sign anything and yet they were released. Who belongs to which category in the aforementioned list is hard to say, thus far.

Political prisoners released from the Perm camps were taken in groups to the nearest rail station (which was cordoned off at the time) and put on trains. From there on, they journeyed without guard or escort. It’s known that many, if not all, of the freed prisoners were given instructions to reach their chosen place of residence within three days (which is rather strange because the receipt of a pardon restores the same rights to a prisoner as other citizens). Almost all chose their place of residence, including Moscow and Petersburg, where they were living before their arrest. So far as is known they have not been encountering difficulties in getting a resident permit (propiska).

A special group

Certain prisoners, transferred from the camps and Chistopol Prison to detention centres near their pre-arrest place of residence, find themselves in a special position.

Mikhail Rivkin, Alexei Smirnov, Valery Senderov and Sergei Khodorovich are all in Moscow at the KGB’s Lefortovo detention centre. Negotiations are proceeding with Senderov and Khodorovich, and with their relatives, about their emigration from the USSR (the authorities insist on it). Senderov’s mother was allowed to see him in order to convince her that he is not presently on hunger strike. It is a demand that all at Lefortovo write some statement or other. Mikhail Rivkin has written a detailed statement of unknown content, but he has not yet been released.

The brothers Tengiz and Eduard Gudava, Emmanuil Tvaladze and, it would seem, Irakly Tsereteli (and someone else, making a total of 5-6 people) are being held at the KGB detention centre in Tbilisi. Attempts are being made to obtain statements from them as well. Tengiz Gudava has refused to write any type of statement.

Genrikh Altunyan, Yevgeny Antsupov and Anatoly Koryagin have been transferred to the KGB detention centre in Kharkov. As stated above, Antsupov was soon released. Not long before her husband was freed, Antsupov’s wife was told that they would soon be permitted to emigrate. Koryagin’s situation is more complicated. They did not let his wife see him on 3 February, as promised, but asked her to ring on 5 February 1987. When she phoned, she was told that Koryagin had been moved somewhere else. Later it became known that he was in the KGB’s Kiev detention centre. His wife was told that his case was “being examined by the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium”. As we reported earlier, to begin with negotiations were held with Koryagin’s wife about their emigration as a family. Koryagin’s wife said that not only Anatoly Koryagin was being held in detention, but also their son Ivan. To which the KGB replied that it would “not be a problem” to release their son. Ivan Koryagin was even transferred to a camp in the town of Balakleya, not far from Kharkov. Now, however, conversation about leaving the country has ended.

Cases still under review

Evidently, the cases of those who remain in the camps are being re-examined. For instance, Vyacheslav Cherepanov and Bogdan Klimchak (both convicted under Article 64 or its equivalent) and a number of other people have already had their photos taken for the ID document [internal passport] that is given to a prisoner who has been freed. They have not yet been released.

The sharp reduction in prisoners in the Perm political camps has led to their internal re-organisation. There are no longer permanent guards outside the punishment cells at camp VS-389/35 and equipment has been removed from the work rooms. Criminal prisoners have been set to work in the boiler room.

Discussions are continuing about the future of political prisoners who are held in camps for criminal offenders. The wife of Vladimir Albrekht was told that he would return to Moscow in the nearest future, perhaps on 16 February even. The conditions under which he is being released are as yet unknown. There were also negotiations with Josif Zissels about signing some statement.

Exiles signing a pardon or
asking for a case be reconsidered

Felix Svetov and Zoya Krakhmalnikova, who are in exile, have been asked to write a statement requesting a pardon. They have refused to do so. On 27 January 1987, Ivan Kovalyov and Tatyana Osipova who are in exile requested a review of their case. The procurator of the Kostroma Region considered their statement unsatisfactory, although he agreed to accept it.

Russian original, 15 February 1987, «Вести из СССР»



See Chebrikov report (1 February 1987*, 183-Ch) in Bukovsky Archive for total number of political prisoners held in various institutions at the time.