Ginzburg’s appeal, August 1978 (50.3)

<<No. 50, November 1978>>

I consider that my sentence is unjust, that it should be revoked, and the case sent for retrial, for the following reasons:


One-sidedness of the pre-trial and court investigations, manifested in the following ways:

1.1 persons whose testimony had a significant bearing on the case were not questioned.

I and my lawyer made several requests that these persons be summoned. The biased and tendentiously accusatory nature of the pre-trial investigation and court proceedings was reflected particularly clearly in the choice of witnesses.

The Helsinki Group’s documents on the violation of human rights were assessed only on the basis of the testimony of those persons directly responsible for the violations and of their accomplices. How would you react if, at the trials concerning atrocities in fascist concentration camps, only the testimony of SS and Gestapo officers was heard, and the victims were not allowed into the witness box as they had “been given bad character references” by these same officers?

1.2 Documents with a direct bearing on the case were not called for.

The Procurator rightly noted that some of my requests were aimed at compromising witnesses. Documents can be used to discredit false witnesses and false testimony. This did not suit the investigators or the court. Especially significant was the refusal to obtain and examine official documents — instructions, decrees, regulations — cited in the Helsinki Group’s material as independent proof of the violation of human rights. Since when has an order from the Minister of Internal Affairs or Minister of Health constituted incontrovertible law for a judge, while the compliance of a prison officer with this order or a secret instruction constitutes evidence of the absence of human rights violations?

1.3 Personal details about the accused were not fully enough established.

No one disputed the information I gave concerning my education (four years in the Faculty of Journalism at Moscow University), yet the verdict states: “secondary education”. The statement in the verdict: “unemployed prior to arrest” is not only false, but an insult to me, I am proud of the trust that has been placed in me: I worked for Academician Sakharov, by mutual agreement, from December 1975 until my arrest.


The discrepancy between the court’s findings, as set down in the verdict, and the facts of the case.

The court’s findings are not supposed by the evidence produced during the trial.

This relates above all to the supposedly slanderous nature of the literature and documents on which the charges against me are based. Following the established tradition of political trials involving slander, here too it was denied that human rights (proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, etc.) had been violated. Moreover, the official commentary to Article 130 of the Russian Criminal Code lays down that for a charge of slander (“slanderous fabrications”) the accused must be aware that the information he disseminated was false; “the dissemination of correct, though damaging information does not constitute a crime”. It was in no way proved that the literature and documents on which the charges against me are based contained false information, nor that I was aware that this information was false. There was only the court’s proclaimed ‘conviction” that it was so.


A substantial violation of Criminal Procedure, namely of Article 46 of the Code,

which guarantees the right of the defendant to study the documents of the prosecution.

The most obvious example of this concerns the materials on which the documents of the Helsinki Group were based. These materials were confiscated during searches conducted in January-February 1977 at the homes of Group members. I was not even able to obtain copies, not only of the documents confiscated from other members of the Group which had a direct bearing on the case, but of many documents taken from me and from members of my family …


Incorrect application of criminal law:

4.1 The application of Article 70 of the Criminal Code contravenes Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Recourse to paragraph 3 of this Article is groundless. You would surely not call the U S Communist Party’s publication The Human Rights Situation in the USA or the American Indians’ march to Washington a danger to the government of the USA.

4.2 Article 13 of the Criminal Code was not applied, yet this states:

“Although falling within the category of an act provided for in the Special Part of the present Code, an action shall not constitute a crime if it is committee in necessary defence, that is in protecting the interests of the Soviet state, social interests, or the person or rights of the defender or of another person against a socially dangerous infringement, by causing harm to the infringer, providing that the limits of necessary defence are not exceeded. (My italics — A.G.) The limits of necessary defence shall be deemed to be exceeded if the defence is clearly disproportionate to the character and danger of the infringement.”

Since the formulation and acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the question of human rights has become a concern of people all over the world. To use the printed word to defend human rights against socially dangerous infringements is certainly not to exceed the limits of necessary defence.

I do not intend either to deny or to admit disseminating literature. Such activities are entirely protected by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I leave it on the conscience, civil courage and political wisdom of the court to decide whether they constitute especially dangerous crimes.


Everyone should read the Gulag Archipelago. I rejoiced when the investigators and judges were reading it. I rejoice that you will read it. This is even a way of making the world a slightly better place.

The works of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov are well known all over the world. Not I, but you and the whole country will be judged according to the way these works are treated here.

I do not intend to deny possessing literature. Nowadays in our country the people who burn books are almost all members of the Writers Union (Otten, Shemetov). Other people read them — and keep them.

I do not wish to deny “preparing and disseminating” the documents of the Helsinki Group and the others I am charged with.

Whatever the extent of my participation or non-participation in the preparation of individual documents, I am prepared to accept responsibility for all of them. Even a biased investigation confirmed the truth of the majority of the facts they contain.

I deny any intention of defaming or undermining the Soviet regime in my actions. I see nothing here to defame or undermine. If the Soviets ever held power, it has been so undermined by the all-powerful party apparatus that you cannot even call it power.

I deny using funds received from abroad for any propagandists or even human rights purposes (by the latter I am referring, for example, to the Helsinki Group’s documents). The Helsinki Group did not spend a kopek on the duplication of its documents, and for other expenses (travel, postage, etc.) depended on the private means of its members. This has never been disputed by anyone.

I deny the charge that I lack principles; this was highlighted in the verdict by a quotation from a private letter of mine. The context of the letter clearly shows that the matter under discussion did not concern ideology, but proposals regarding the recently-established Fund.

I deny the charge of profiteering and using the resources of the Fund for my own personal needs and for those of my family. And I have no ‘masters’ abroad. I have friends, many of them. You could have found this out for yourselves. I do not ask you to commute my sentence.

After three years’ intensive work, after a year under investigation, constantly being threatened with charges under a number of Criminal Code articles, three of them involving the death penalty, and with being shot; after six months of being firmly promised the maximum sentence under Article 70 part 2, with a prison term to begin with (Shcharansky’s case confirms that threats of prosecution on charges of treason are not empty words, Filatov’s case that the firing squad is still in readiness; I hope that this time wisdom will prevail and it will not be used) — after all this, I can only rejoice at the prospect of eight years. Particularly on special regime. This is the only island of today’s Archipelago that I have not yet visited.

I do not ask for a lighter sentence, I do not expect the impossible — a just trial. I desire only the improbable: annulment of the verdict and a trial which will trample less unceremoniously on the laws by which it is supposed to abide.

Alexander Ginzburg