First Court Hearing in the “Historians’ Case”

Source: (info), 18/10/11 

· Artistic freedom Human rights defenders Human rights education  Ministry of Internal Affairs 

·  Public Prosecutor’s Office  Security services Arkhangelsk region St. Petersburg & Leningrand region 

Tatyana Kosinova: A first hearing in the trial of Professor Mikhail Suprun and Colonel Aleksandr Dudarev has taken place in Arkhangelsk. On 17 October 2011 a court of first instance in Arkhangelsk began to hear the criminal case against the compilers of the Book of Memory about deported ethnic Germans in Arkhangelsk region, Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev. The case was initiated over two years ago – on 13 September 2009 – by Arkhangelsk investigator Vladimir Shevchenko, based on the results of an investigation by the FSB. 

The German-Russian project to compile Books of Memory about ethnic German exiles in Arkhangelsk region became an object of interest to the security services. Historian Mikhail Suprun, leading the project, gathered a database on repressed ethnic Germans who were deported to the Arkhangelsk region in various years, from the period of collectivization until the mid-1950s. According to the official investigation, Mikhail Suprun thereby “violated the personal and family privacy” of those exiled and their descendants (Article 137, section 1 of the Criminal Code). Aleksandr Dudarev, former head of the archives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs for Arkhangelsk region, is being prosecuted for having allowed the researcher access to the documents on the history of political repression and thereby, according to the investigation, “exceeding his official powers” (Article 286, Section 1 of the Criminal Code). 

The work involved reviewing about 40,000 cases of exiled ethnic Germans stored in the Information Centre of the Arkhangelsk region police department. At the time charges were brought, a database of 5,000 people had been compiled. At that point the work on the project was suspended. 

The investigation was extended numerous times and lasted about 22 months until the end of June 2011. The investigation was extended seven times, a fact explained by the investigating officers on the grounds that this was an “exceptional case” (the case is indeed unprecedented), by “the regulatory uncertainty of the concepts of personal and family privacy” in Russian legislation and by “the difficulty of categorizing the defendants' actions” (Case № 09376051, Volume 1, page 190). 

Defendants Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev were neither detained nor held in pre-trial detention. Aleksandr Dudarev was in effect fired from his position at the police department archives. 

The investigation under the auspices of the FSB was able to find and in some way or other persuade 15 people to speak as victims in this case - the heirs and children of exiled ethnic Germans who still live in the Arkhangelsk region and other regions of Russia - from among the 5,000 in the database (in the area around Archangelsk today there is a relatively compact population of about 2,000 exiled ethnic Germans and their descendants). Their testimony was interpreted by the investigators as alleging that the historians had violated “personal and family privacy” in referring to the data about their parents in the database for the Books of Memory about exiled ethnic Germans. Moreover, one of the victims, on whose claim the investigation was based from the outset, did not live to see the trial begin and died in 2010. Therefore the prosecution today is built on the testimony of 14 victims. The case materials consist of 14 volumes. 

Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev were first charged on 16 December 2010 after they had refused offers from the investigator to close the case on the grounds of “expiration of the statute of limitations” or “reconciliation of the parties” (see the full text of the charges on the website of the Institute for Freedom of Information). After this, the investigation was extended for a further six months until July 2011. At that point the final version of the charges was approved by Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, A. V. Gutsan on 19 June 2011.
Professor Mikhail Suprun 

Despite the legal uncertainty, the finding of the unconstitutionality of Article 137 of the Criminal Code, the general dubiousness of the charges, and the scandal surrounding the case, the investigation continued and the case came to court. All attempts by lawyers for the defence to challenge the decision to bring charges and other complaints they made were dismissed. 

As we previously reported, this case is being heard in the October district court of first instance in Arkhangelsk city by Judge Svetlana Palamodova. The public prosecutor at the trial is prosecutor Evgeniya Weiss of Arkhangelsk region Prosecutor's Office. At the prosecutor’s request, the court case is being heard in closed session.

At a preliminary hearing on 3 October 2011 the court agreed in part to a petition by Mikhail Suprun and his defence team. Suprun and his lawyer Ivan Pavlov declared that “in this case there are no legal grounds to charge the defendant under Article 137 Section 1 of the Criminal Code.” They stated that as a consequence “all the work done analysing the evidence presented by the prosecution is merely a formal process lacking any meaning for the defence. The absence of clear legal basis is obvious without the holding of a trial. Moreover, the court process is not capable of filling this gap.” Mikhail Suprun and his lawyer asked the court to “hear the criminal case in the absence of the defendant M. N. Suprun and his legal counsel I. Yu. Pavlov.”

The court partially granted this request. Mikhail Suprun was released from participation in the trial, but his lawyer Ivan Pavlov was not. Speaking of the court hearing, Ivan Pavlov told our “This case reminds me of a train that is going off the rails...”

Mikhail Suprun did not take part in the court session on 17 October and he has recently returned to Poland, where he has been based since August 2011 on an academic visit. 

The court session on 17 October was the first hearing into the case on its merits and lasted about eight hours. As Ivan Pavlov reported, it began with a question from the judge: “Does Mikhail Suprun’s defence agree with the charges?”  Pavlov responded that neither he nor his client “understood the meaning of the charges” and continue to insist that “not only do none of the actions of the defendant Suprun constitute a crime, but there is no crime at all in this case.” 

This was, Pavlov argued, first of all because “given that there is no statutory definition of ‘personal privacy’ or ‘family privacy’, and because there is no reference to any specific kinds of privacy based on federal laws that protect this privacy, there is no adequate legal basis to qualify any acts under Article 137 of the Criminal Code.” And the lawyer in effect went on to repeat the arguments contained in the defence’s petition of 3 October 2011.

Police department archivist, Colonel Aleksandr Dudarev. 
Photo Green Lamp, St. Petersburg.

At this point, Judge Svetlana Palamodova adjourned the session. But after 10 minutes she resumed the hearing and proceeded to the planned earlier questioning of the victims. "It became clear that the trial court will continue to turn a blind eye to the lack of legal basis for the charges," Ivan Pavlov said. 

On 17 October seven of the victims were questioned, and the testimony of an eighth victim given during the preliminary investigation, who was absent due to illness, was read out in court. 

According to the lawyer Ivan Pavlov and the second defendant Alexander Dudarev, the first court session showed that the court favours the prosecution. This is reflected in how the judge stopped questions asked of the victims by the defence, how the prosecution was allowed to introduce testimony given during the preliminary investigation, how the court and the prosecutor interrogated the victims, “dragging out of them” confirmation that the defendants had violated their “personal and family privacy.” “Moreover,” Ivan Pavlov never tires of repeating, “the victims, as well as the prosecution, as well as the respected court, does not have defined ideas about what constitutes the kind of privacy in question.”

“Today's hearing is yet further proof of the thesis that each person understands this in their own way," said lawyer Ivan Pavlov. 

The basis for this criminal case has been the fact that members of one family of exiled ethnic Germans, the Diring family, had different views about the process of compilation of the Books of Memory. The daughter of the family, whose father had been exiled to Arkhangelsk, believes that the historians, in preparing the Books of Memory, had violated her family privacy and she is a victim in the trial, while her brother does not support the charges and is a witness for the defence. 

“As we expected, the hearings have not added, and will not add, anything new, apart from more contradictions. It is clear that all the testimony of the victims has been copied from a single script. All the protocols of the victims’ interrogations contain the same questions and identical answers,” Ivan Pavlov said. “I actually am certain that the court does not share my position. It is important to finish this stage in the Arkhangelsk court as soon as possible.” 

Ivan Pavlov went on: “I repeat: in order to restore the status quo even an acquittal here in Arkhangelsk will not be enough for us. We must prove to the prosecutor's office and the entire law enforcement system, that in our country today historians carrying out research into the crimes of the Soviet regime cannot be crushed using the regulatory uncertainty of the legislation on personal and family privacy.”

The court hearing will resume in Arkhangelsk on 24-26 October 2011, and then on 14 November 2011. 

Counsel for the defence, Ivan Pavlov. 
Photo Green Lamp, St. Petersburg 

Source: Cogita 

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Video of press conference in Russian with Ivan Pavlov, Aleksandr Dudarev, Tatyana Kosinova at the Green Lamp Club , St. Petersburg. Video by Piter-TV.

Rights in Russia,
19 Oct 2011, 09:05