The case of Mikhail Ryzhik: Moscow Region, October 1969 (10.3)

«No 10 : 31 October 1969»

The case of Mikhail Shmerlevich Ryzhik has been in progress for almost a year. He has been accused of refusing to undergo military service.

In 1961, as a third-year student at Kharkov University, M. Sh. Ryzhik was called up into the Soviet Army, and after serving his term, was transferred to the reserve in 1964 as a Junior Lieutenant in the Signals.

In 1968 he graduated from the Moscow Institute of Steel and Alloys, and then worked as an engineer at the ‘Eksiton’ factory in the town of Pavlovsky-Posad [near Moscow].

On 14 November 1968, M. Sh. Ryzhik received his call-up papers from the Pavlovsky-Posad military recruitment centre. Larionov, the head of Department 3 of the recruitment centre, informed Ryzhik that he was being called up for service in the Soviet Army in accordance with Article 61 (para. b) of the General Conscription Law, and should report for a medical examination. In reply, Ryzhik declared that in his opinion the law was being incorrectly applied in his case, and that he would not report for a medical examination until he had received an interpretation from the competent authorities which would legally justify the compulsory peacetime call-up of a man who had already served in the armed forces. Moreover, Ryzhik explained to Larionov and the military commissar Kamendrovsky that it was irrational to use a specialist with higher education in a Soviet Army post which would suit a man with secondary school education.

After that, Larionov and Kamendrovsky asked Lebedev, an official of the recruitment centre dressed in civilian clothes, into the room, and they drew up a record of the proceedings. Everything Ryzhik had said was entered in the record in a distorted form, and he refused to sign the document. The record was sent to the Pavlovsky-Posad Procuracy. Criminal proceedings were instituted. Meanwhile Ryzhik appealed to the CPSU Central Committee and the Ministry of Defence, enquiring whether his conscription was legally justifiable; he received the reply that he was in fact liable for call-up. After that, Ryzhik informed the town recruitment centre that he was willing to serve in the Soviet Army.

The recruitment centre, however, sent him back to the Procuracy. In accordance with Article 50 of the Russian Criminal Code, the case ought to have been closed at this point, but in spite of this the investigation continued. It was conducted by a grade-one lawyer, Kocherov, an investigator of the Pavlosky-Posad Procuracy, for whom objectivity was the least consideration. During his interrogations of Ryzhik, Kocherov was rude, refusing to include Ryzhik‘s additional statements and corrections in the record of the proceedings, and permitting himself anti-Semitic insults. Ryzhik submitted a petition objecting to investigator Kocherov on the grounds that he was prejudiced. Ryzhik‘s petition was rejected, and investigator Kocherov, in reply to Ryzhik‘s complaint, declared: “Of course you’re not satisfied with your investigator. You wouldn’t be satisfied with any investigator. You’d like your investigator to be … Katsman, wouldn’t you?” (There is no investigator by the name of Katsman in the Pavlovsky-Posad Procuracy.) Ryzhik‘s case was handed to the courts. He was charged under Article 81 of the Russian Criminal Code, “Refusal to obey a mobilization draft order”.

On 3 February 1969, at a session of the Pavlovsky-Posad town court chaired by Judge Sorokina, the accused Ryzhik was acquitted, since at the time of his summons to the military recruitment centre there had been no mobilization order from the Ministry of Defence. The Procurator Molodtsov appealed against the decision of the court. The investigation was resumed: this time criminal proceedings were instituted against Ryzhik under Article 80 of the Russian Criminal Code, “refusal to obey a normal call-up order for military service”.


In April 1969 Ryzhik was tried a second time, in the [nearby] town of Noginsk, and once again the court acquitted him, on the grounds that he had undergone normal call-up in 1961-4, and that the new order was therefore not ‘normal’ in his case.

The Pavlovsky-Posad Procurator, Junior Counsellor of Justice Fedonkin, appealed privately against the decision of the court. His appeal was granted by the Moscow Region Court, and Ryzhik‘s case was reopened from the court investigation stage. On 13 October 1969, Ryzhik’s case was given an open hearing in Noginsk. Judge Demskaya presided over the court. Procurator Molodtsov represented the prosecution, and Ryzhik‘s defence was conducted by lawyer Monakhov of the Moscow City Collegium of Lawyers.

During the hearing Judge Demskaya condemned young people who ‘have learned to argue’. “There’s nothing to argue about! The order is given — obey it! Thinking won’t get you anywhere!” she declared. She denounced Ryzhik‘s action as ‘un-Soviet to the core’.

The testimony given at this trial by witnesses Lebedev, Larionov and Kamendrovsky, officials of the army recruitment centre, completely contradicted the testimony they gave at the pre-trial investigation—which   had   been   written into the record of their interrogations—but the court disregarded this. It is known for a fact that Ryzhik once informed the October District recruitment centre in Moscow of his wish to go to Vietnam as a volunteer. But the head of the October District recruitment centre, Lieutenant-Colonel Romanenko, and the chief of Department 3 of the same centre, Kalinin, supplied the court with a certificate (number 3/2287 of 7 August 1969) which stated that M. Sh. Ryzhik “has never been, and is not now, on the list of reserve officers at the October District recruitment centre, and has never made a written request to be sent to Vietnam as a volunteer”. The defence lawyer requested the court to examine M. Sh. Ryzhik‘s passport, in which there was a note that the passport had been issued after the holder had served his term in the Soviet Army, on the basis of a military identity card registered at the October District recruitment centre in Moscow, where Ryzhik was on the list from 1964 to 1968.

The unsubstantial and clumsily expressed accusations made by the Procurator were refuted by the defence arguments. The lawyer Monakhov stated that there was no law in the Criminal Code which specified that a man could be charged for refusing to do extra service, and that the application by analogy of Article 80 of the Russian Criminal Code directly conflicted with the Criminal Code now in force and with the Basic Principles of Criminal Legislation in the USSR The institution of analogy, which used to exist in Soviet criminal law, had been abolished in 1958 by the USSR Supreme Soviet, when it adopted the Basic Principles of Criminal Legislation, and by the Russian Supreme Soviet in 1960 when it adopted the new Criminal Code. The abolition of the institution of analogy had been specifically emphasized at the session of the Supreme Soviet, and in the Soviet press, as an achievement of democracy. In conclusion the defence asked the court to find M. Sh. Ryzhik not guilty.

The court found Ryzhik guilty under article 80 of the Russian Criminal Code and sentenced him to one and a half years’ imprisonment, his term to be served in a corrective labour colony of ordinary regime.

M. Sh. Ryzhik, who had been at liberty all this time, was taken into custody in the courtroom and interned in the prison of Noginsk.