History with an Expiry Date

Source: HRO.org (info), 12/12/11

· Freedom of speech  · The Courts  · Security agencies  · Arkhangelsk region

Boris Sokolov, Grani.ru: The October district court in Arkhangelsk reached a compromise decision in the high-profile case of Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev. The charges against the historian Mikhail Suprun, accused of violating privacy laws, were dropped on grounds of the statute of limitations. In this way the court declined to reach a judgment on the substantive issues of the trial. But Aleksandr Dudarev, the second person in the case and former head of the Arkhangelsk Police Information Centre, was less lucky. The court found him guilty of exceeding his official powers and gave him a one year suspended sentenced with a one-year probation period.

Mikhail Suprun had been charged with having made public information that was private in nature, in passing to Germany the cases of 5,000 repressed ethnic Germans exiled to Arkhangelsk region. This was done in the framework of a contract for the publication of a book about the repressed families of ethnic Germans signed by the German Red Cross, Pomorsky State University, and Arkhangelsk region police department. It should be noted that under the law all information that relates to facts of political repression cannot be considered private. But the court paid no attention to this. While the court hearings were still in progress the lawyers for the accused lodged an appeal to the Constitutional Court, requesting an explanation of the meaning of the concept “personal privacy”, something that is not defined in any legislative act. However, the Constitutional Court declined to consider their appeal, ruling that it would only consider those appeals that referred to court decisions that had already entered into force. 

Boris Sokolov, Grani.ru: The October district court in Arkhangelsk reached a compromise decision in the high-profile case of Mikhail Suprun and Aleksandr Dudarev. The charges against the historian Mikhail Suprun, accused of violating privacy laws, were dropped on grounds of the statute of limitations. In this way the court declined to reach a judgment on the substantive issues of the trial. But Aleksandr Dudarev, the second person in the case and former head of the Arkhangelsk Police Information Centre, was less lucky. The court found him guilty of exceeding his official powers and gave him a one year suspended sentenced with a one-year probation period.

Mikhail Suprun had been charged with having divulged private information for passing to Germany the cases of 5,000 repressed ethnic Germans exiled to Arkhangelsk region. This was done in the framework of a contract between the German Red Cross, Pomorsky State University, and Arkhangelsk region police department for the publication of a book about the families of repressed ethnic Germans. It should be noted that in law no information that relates to facts of political repression can be considered private. But the court paid no attention to this. While the court hearings were still in progress the lawyers for the accused lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court requesting a definition of the concept “personal privacy”, something that is not defined in any legislative act. However, the Constitutional Court declined to consider the appeal, ruling that it would only consider appeals that referred to court decisions which have already entered into force.

In order to avoid resolving such a complex issue as the definition of the concept “personal privacy”, the court preferred to close the case against Suprun. But here an obvious absurdity arises. The conviction of Dudarev is possible only in the event that Suprun were also to be convicted on the same charges. After all, the police colonel exceeded his powers only in that, allegedly, he gave the historian what, in law, he should not have given. But the court in any case did not establish whether Suprun broke the law or not when he passed on to Germany information people who had been the victims of repressions. It is clear that the conviction of Dudarev is unlawful since it is not known whether he had the right to give the researcher the information in question. All the more so since Aleksandr Vasilievich asserted that he acted on the basis of a more general agreement between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the German side. But this did not embarrass the court.

Probably, one of the reasons why the case against Suprun and Dudarev arose was that the Russian authorities wish to ensure that no information about foreigners who suffered repression reaches the West for fear that the victims and their relatives could demand the payment by Moscow of considerable compensation. We can see that the refusal to rehabilitate the victims of Katyn has been crudely argued on the grounds that the documents of the criminal cases have been destroyed, and there is nothing to give to a court. As though it is not well known that these case materials were destroyed by the executioners themselves.

But the case of Suprun and Dudarev there is a motivation of more general import than a simple unwillingness to pay compensation to repressed foreigners. This is the desire to censor our history, not to allow the further publication of documents that show the Soviet past in an unfavourable light, and in particular the Soviet organs of repression. It is not without significance that the initiator of the criminal prosecution was the FSB.

Immediately after charges were brought against Suprun and Dudarev, Russian archives containing the cases of deported people and other repressed people that were held by the Ministry of Internal Affairs became practically inaccessible for researchers. And now if the conviction of Dudarev is upheld, in effect all Russian archives containing documents from the years after 1936 (now the term for maintaining personal privacy is 75 years) may be closed to researchers. For in virtually every document someone’s name is mentioned, and the descendants of these people can hinder publication and sue researchers and the archives for divulging ‘information about private life’. The court in Arkhangelsk acted quite cunningly in apparently stopping the historian from being held responsible (but without a full or unconditional exoneration), while at the same time finding the archivist guilty. Now the staff of an archive will think twice before giving a researcher access to documents of a ‘doubtful’ nature that might in any way compromise our glorious past.

There remains, of course, the long process of lodging an appeal, and also, if the conviction remains in force, the inevitable application by Dudarev’s lawyers to the Constitutional Court to request a legal definition of the notion of ‘personal privacy’. It is possible that Suprun’s defence will challenge the closure of the case against him on the grounds of the statute of limitations, and seek to have the case closed on grounds that would exonerate him, based on the absence of a crime in law or fact.

An open letter in defence of Suprun and Dudarev was signed by many Russian historians, journalists and public figures soon after the charges had been brought against them. It seems to me that what needs to be done now is to demand that the Prosecutor General lodge a protest against the convictions as unlawful, so that a higher court should quash them and unequivocally acquit the accused. If the conviction remains in force our ability to objectively study our recent past will be extremely limited. And this increases the risk that it might be repeated.

Source: Grani.ru

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Rights in Russia,
15 Dec 2011, 14:05
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