The Trial of Olga Joffe, 20 August 1970 (15.2)

«No 15 : 31 August 1970»

The trial of Olga Joffe [Iofe] took place on 20 August 1970 in the Moscow City Court. She was charged under Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code with taking an active part in the preparation of 245 leaflets of anti-Soviet content, and with the possession and circulation of documents of anti-Soviet content which had been confiscated from her during a search.

The members of the court were:

Judge – Bogdanov; Procurator [prosecutor] – Voinovich;

Counsel for the Defence – Yu. Pozdeyev.

A preliminary psychiatric examination judged Joffe to be of unsound mind. It was carried out at the Serbsky Central Research Institute of Forensic Psychiatry by Professor Mironov, D.R. Lunts D.Sc. (Med.), and the doctors Felinskaya and Martynenko. They diagnosed sluggish schizophrenia of a straightforward type.

Defence counsel Yu. B. Pozdeyev submitted two petitions:

  • that N.Ya. Shatunovskaya and Yu.M. Joffe, the parents of Olga Joffe, should be recognised as the accused’s legal representatives;
  • that the accused should be brought to trial.

The Procurator objected to the second petition on the grounds that it was painful for a sick person to be present at his own trial. The court rejected this petition.


The Judge announced that three witnesses had been summoned in connection with the case: I.M. Kaplun, V.I. Bakhmin [CCE 16.10, item 3] and V.M. Tishinin.

The witness Vyacheslav Bakhmin testified that he had been acquainted with Olga Joffe for about a year and a half, and that on 7 and 8 November 1969 he had been in Irina Kaplun‘s flat together with Kaplun, Joffe, T. Khromova and Dibtseva. Olga Joffe had dictated the text of a leaflet, while he and Kaplun typed it. These leaflets had then been given to V. Tishinin to keep.

Bakhmin further declared that the leaflets had been typed with no particular aim, since it had not yet been decided by what method to circulate them or whether to circulate them at all. The leaflets had been typed on 7 and 8 November because these were the only days when they did not have to attend classes. The leaflets had been prepared in readiness for 21 December [the 90th anniversary of Stalin’s birth, CCE 11.15, item 2]. Later, on 30 November, a few hours before their arrest, it had been decided to destroy all the leaflets.

Bakhmin had been shown a document on which the compilation of the leaflet was based, and he testified that the text of the document was written in loffe’s hand, while the corrections were in his hand. He had not been acquainted with the other documents shown to him.

The testimony of Irina Kaplun, who had been friendly with Joffe since 1956, coincided exactly with that of Bakhmin.

Irina Kaplun stated that the activities of herself and her friends were in no way directed at undermining the Soviet political system, but, on the contrary, at strengthening it, and that they were acting in accordance with the Leninist principle that the people must be told the truth.

On the subject of Joffe‘s leaflet all the witnesses testified that Olga was a tenacious and consistent person of strong will. She was a logical thinker, and always finished what she had started; she was good-natured towards others and had a sense of humour. Besides this, at the request of defence counsel Pozdeyev, character references from her places of work and study were read out, describing her in glowing terms.

The third witness, V.M. Tishinin, was not present in court, and not a word was said about his testimony. (It is known that Tishinin is at liberty and that shortly before the arrest of Joffe, Kaplun and Bakhmin he wrote a letter of denunciation to the KGB, which was the cause of their arrest.).

At the request of defence counsel Joffe’s parents were questioned. N. Shatunovskaya said that her daughter Olga had developed normally, and neither in her childhood nor in her youth had any deviations from the norm been in evidence. She was an affectionate, serene, restrained and sociable girl.

Martynenko, the chairman of the diagnosis commission, read out the established diagnosis. Defence counsel Pozdeyev put to her a number of questions.

Q. Exactly what physiological tests were carried out to establish that she was suffering from an illness?

A. Such physiological tests are carried out on everybody without exception. The absence of symptoms of an illness cannot prove the absence of the illness itself.

Q. On the basis of exactly what remarks did the commission establish that her thought processes were functioning on different levels? Describe even one of the tests administered to Olga, by means of which major disturbances of her thought processes were established, or give even one remark by her which suggested such disturbances.

A. I am unable to give a concrete answer, and if the court requires one it will be necessary to send to the Serbsky Institute for the history of the illness. However, her reaction to being taken to the Serbsky Institute may serve as an example of her behaviour. She knew where she had been taken and realised what this meant, but she showed no sign of emotion, the tone of her voice didn’t even change.

(V. Novodvorskaya showed signs of emotion [CCE 13.2] – too many, in fact. The result of the examination was the same!)

Q. Do you not ascribe Olga’s behaviour to her self-control, strength of will and serenity, of which the witnesses have spoken?

A. It’s impossible to control oneself to that extent.

Q. How do you explain the fact that the presence of an illness which, according to the diagnosis, has been developing in Joffe since she was fourteen did not prevent her from successfully graduating from the mathematical school and entering the University? (The apparent implication of the diagnosis is that the illness began in 1966, when Olga Joffe and her friends circulated leaflets at school [CCE 11.7].)

A. The presence of this form of schizophrenia does not presuppose changes in the personality noticeable to others.

Defence counsel Pozdeyev then read out from a monograph by Morozov and others the symptoms of the illness from which, according to the diagnosis, Olga was suffering a hostile attitude to others, isolation from the world, thoughts skipping from one subject to another, apathy – to such an extent that the patient never gets out of bed; he asked the expert to say exactly which of these symptoms, if only one of them, had been observed in Olga Joffe. At the same time he said that the presence of the symptoms enumerated had been completely refuted by the character references from her places of work and study and by the testimony of the witnesses.

A. All these symptoms cannot be considered in isolation, but only in their entirety.

Defence counsel stated that he was not satisfied with the answers of the representative of the commission, inasmuch as not a single concrete answer had been given.

Defence counsel’s request for a further examination by a different commission was rejected on the grounds that the commission at the Serbsky Institute had been warned of its responsibility under Article 187 of the Russian Code of Criminal Procedure (responsibility for refusal to give conclusions or for giving deliberately false conclusions), and, in any case, the commission had been sufficiently authoritative.


In his speech Procurator Voinovich said:

“We are today considering an extremely unusual case; its unusualness lies in the fact that the defendant in the case we are considering is not present, since she is suffering from a serious mental illness, which has been diagnosed by an authoritative commission at the Serbsky Institute. Joffe’s guilt is completely proved. Yes, she committed a serious crime specified in Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code. It is clear to me from the testimony of her parents that they took no supervisory measures to prevent the perpetration of serious crimes. Although, of course, this person is ill and is not responsible for her actions. The prosecution asked that loffe should be sent for compulsory treatment to a Special Psychiatric Hospital.”

Defence counsel Pozdeyev then said that as long ago as 2 December 1969, on the day after her arrest, Joffe stated that she did not consider her activity to be anti-Soviet and that it had by no means been aimed at undermining the Soviet system. On the basis of the witnesses’ testimony it could be regarded as proved that the three documents had not been circulated at all, and had merely been the expression of thoughts of the moment; Kaplun had admitted that one document had been written by her and only rewritten in Joffe’s hand after a discussion. Each witness had testified that it was decided to destroy the leaflets on 30 November. Thus there was no case to answer under Article 70 of the Russian Criminal Code.

Defence counsel asked for Article 70 to be replaced by Article 190-1. Defence counsel further stated that he had got the impression from his conversation with Olga Joffe that she took in reasoned arguments easily, that it was easy to establish contact with her and that she was inclined to listen to somebody else’s opinion and think it over. Defence counsel referred to the youth of the accused (twenty) and to a certain tendency, peculiar to that age, to make categorical judgements. He said that when one was young it was sometimes hard to sort out a flood of information and to reach a correct conclusion. Failure to do so, however, was not a crime. Considering the age of the accused and the fact that she was suffering from a straightforward form of schizophrenia (according to the diagnosis), which was easier than others to treat, defence counsel regarded it as pointless to send Joffe to a Psychiatric Hospital of Special Type, which presupposed protracted treatment and cases of serious illness, and he asked that she be sent to an ordinary psychiatric hospital.


The sentence of the court contained no changes from the original indictment, nor any supplementary grounds for its decision. This was to send Olga Joffe for treatment in a psychiatric hospital of Special Type and to hold her in custody until she was taken to the hospital.