The trial of Malva Landa, May 1977 (46.1)

<<No 46 : 15 August 1977>>

In February 1977, the “case of the fire” in Malva Landa’s apartment (see CCE 44.25) was remitted for further investigation. During this investigation, a great deal of evidence was given about a roll of film of some kind, which the witnesses had allegedly seen after the fire.

Malva Landa, 1918-2019

Some called the film photographic, some said it was a microfilm; according to one of the witnesses it was dark in colour, another said it was black and white, a third said it was brown, while a fourth alleged it was yellow. Some had seen it in Landa‘s room, others in the room of her neighbour Kutin, or on the balcony, while yet others said it was “hanging in loops from the trees”.

The record of the survey made immediately after the fire does not mention any film! In addition, this film, discovered in large quantities — according to the witnesses — after the fire, was for some reason destroyed and did not really constitute part of the case against Landa. Landa had already declared at the pre-trial investigation and in court that she had not been in possession of any film.

The pre-trial investigation

In the course of the additional pre-trial investigation Landa was brought face to face with her neighbour Kutin. When asked by investigator Ilychev if Landa had been burning papers in her room, Kutin replied that he had not been at home at the time of the fire, but that once, on returning to the house, he had smelt paper burning. The investigator wrote in the record of evidence: “he often saw . . .” After Landa protested, he re-wrote the record. As this was not the only falsification made by llychev, Landa refused to give evidence and wrote a declaration concerning the biased conduct of the investigation.

At Landa’s insistence a search was proclaimed for an unknown man who had stopped her on the staircase and had not let her put out the fire (CCE 44); but the unknown man was not found.

On 21 April, the pre-trial investigation came to an end for the second time (CCE 45).

On 12 May A.D. Sakharov made an appeal to the world public and to the heads of the governments that signed the Helsinki Agreement:

“16 May has been appointed for the trial of Malva Landa, an active participant in the struggle for human rights in the USSR, a selfless defender of political prisoners and a member of the Helsinki Monitoring Group in the USSR … .

“The trial of Landa is the first of a series of trials being prepared for members of the Helsinki Group. It is our duty to defend Malva Landa.”

The trial

On 16 May the hearing of the case began in the Krasnogorsk town court (near Moscow). The lawyer who had helped Landa to study the case materials refused to participate in the trial. Another lawyer who took Landa’s case would not agree, however, to support her position in court. Therefore, Landa declared to the court that she would defend herself. However, the next day Landa told the court that her decision had been mistaken; she asked for the hearing to be deferred so that she would have time to find a defence counsel. The court agreed to her request. The hearing was put off for a week.

On 24 May it was announced that the judge was ill, and the trial was delayed once more — until 27 May. On 27 May the court investigation was resumed. Judge Kalalayev presided, as he had on 16 May. However, the people’s assessors were new. On the basis of Article 241 of the RSFSR Code of Criminal Procedure, the court hearing began once more. This gave the witnesses who had mixed up their testimony or had given ‘unsuitable’ evidence on 16 May, the opportunity to smooth out their statements. The second stage of the trial took place on two days — 27 and 30 May. On 31 May sentence was passed.

In the second stage of the trial Landa’s defence was undertaken by the lawyer Popov.

On 16 May Landa’s friends and acquaintances were allowed into the courtroom only after she had categorically refused to go into court without them. On the other days everyone was allowed in unhindered.

The indictment charged Landa with the “careless destruction or damage” of state property (the apartment) and personal property (her neighbour Kutin’s belongings). This refers to Articles 99 and 150 of the RSFSR Criminal Code. The charges state that as a result of Landa’s carelessness in throwing aside an unextinguished cigarette end, and of the disorder in the room, the flames spread throughout the apartment, causing great material damage. The housing bureau had sued Landa for 2,493 roubles to pay for repairs and resettlement of residents, and her neighbour Kutin had sued her for 392 roubles, 87 kopecks.

In answer to the question “Do you admit your guilt?”, Landa replied that she was not guilty of the serious damage priced at 2,500 roubles; the facts of the conflagration remained unclear. “However, I am not competent to dispute the suit — so I will settle it; I do not agree to the amount of the claim made by Kutin.”

Landa explained to the court that on going out of her room, per- haps without having extinguished her cigarette, she had suddenly heard an explosive sound; she turned back — there was a Are; she could not put out the conflagration — the flames burnt up even more fiercely after water was used and burnt her face all over; she ran out onto the stairs for help — there an unknown man grabbed Landa and held her until the firemen arrived. This man explained his appearance to Landa by saying that he had been walking along the street when he had caught sight of the fire. Landa insisted in court that he could not have seen the fire from the street at that moment, as it was burning in the middle of the room and not very brightly.

The first of the witnesses to be questioned was Landa’s son Alexei Germanov (CCE 43). He stated that two weeks after the fire, his mother was still in a serious condition — from burns. He also said “My mother has worked all her life as a geologist; in my opinion, she has been a very successful specialist; many finds have been made on the basis of her prospecting. During the war she freely gave her blood.”

From the Interrogation of the Witnesses

Landa (to Kutin): The search in my room was on 9 January, but on 8 January you were already giving evidence that there were unlawful documents in my room.

Kutin: I wasn’t the only one.

Judge: What of it? Were official witnesses present? Was a record made?

Kutin: Ilychev found a record and read it to us. There was something in it about Vladimir Prison, the conditions there. I don’t know — he didn’t read all of it.

Landa (to Kartashev, the house-management engineer): What, in your opinion, led to the fire breaking out?

Kartashev: A very high temperature would have been necessary for the floor to have been so burned. It was burned in layers. The parquet and the floor itself were burned away completely. It must have been something of a very high temperature . …

Landa (to the metal worker Panov): You wrote in your testimony that polyethylene packets filled with standard-size sheets of paper with something bad written on them, were thrown out of the windows.

Panov: I didn’t see exactly.

Judge (reading out Panov’s evidence): “I noticed that they were throwing a ‘Moscow’ typewriter and foreign books which are not sold here out of the window …”

Panov: I did see something. It’s true that I saw them the next day in a heap, not when they were being thrown out.

Landa: And how did you distinguish that the books were foreign and not sold here? Did you read them?

Panov: No.

Landa: And how did you distinguish a ‘Moscow’ typewriter from an ‘Erika’ typewriter? How many makes of typewriter do you know?

Panov: I don’t know any.

Landa (quoting Panov’s testimony): “I realised that Landa’s room was full of books, newspapers and cuttings from papers of a political nature.” How do you know this?

Panov: From what the investigator said.

On 30 May witness Saltanov testified that the unknown man who held back Landa had told him that he had already called the fire-brigade. When the firemen arrived, he disappeared. Before the fire Saltanov had seen him once in that district.

Expert witness Shuvalov considered the cause of the fire to have been a nitrate film. He observed that such film had not been produced for 15 years. However, the investigators had not shown him any photographic film or any material evidence: he had based his report on the materials in the case file and on the evidence given by the witnesses. “For a fire to start from a cigarette or a stub a lengthy period has to elapse.”

In his speech the prosecutor said in particular: “ff anyone held her back, it was only with the aim of saving her life. Landa’s assertions to the contrary have not been backed up by anything. And there is no evidence to support the version that she was not the only guilty party.” The prosecutor demanded that Landa be imprisoned for two years.

Defence counsel said in his speech that the case gave rise to very many questions which had not been cleared up by either the investigation, or the trial, or the experts. How was it known that there had been a film if there was no material evidence of it? The experts’ conclusion hung by a thread. The question of what caused the fire had not been clearly established. The investigation had not found the unknown man whom the witness Saltanov and others had seen. The evidence was contradictory concerning both the electric shock which affected the firemen and the time of the firemen’s arrival. Even if it was considered that the fire arose as a result of Landa’s carelessness, did this constitute a crime according to Article 99? For this article to be applicable, the law requires “human victims or other serious consequences”. Defence counsel insisted that in this case there had been no such “serious consequences”. Even more clearly there had been no “serious consequences” with regard to Kutin. Therefore, there was no basis for applying either Article 150 or Article 99. As for the suits, they should be considered in legal proceedings in a civil court. Counsel asked that Landa be found not guilty.

Final words

In her final speech Landa expressed sympathy for all those who had suffered from the fire.

However, I don’t consider myself guilty of the results of the fire. I have reason to doubt that the fire was caused by a cigarette or a match. This is borne out by the extremely prejudiced investigation,

together with the various falsifications and tendentious, intentional distortions of their evidence by witnesses. The witnesses were incited in a particular manner, fn order to get the required evidence out of them, they were told that I had printed and stored ‘illegal’ papers. The trial had been no less prejudiced. The judge put leading questions to the witnesses . . . The documents that were burned included valuable, in some cases unique documents about the infringement of human rights in our country. I regret that I shall not be able to continue this necessary and important work.

In conclusion Landa thanked the friends who had supported her and the foreign journalists who had reported her case.

The court found Landa guilty. Because this was her first conviction, because of her age as a pensioner and the fact that she herself had suffered from the fire, the court applied Article 43 of the RSFSR Criminal Code (“Imposition of lighter penalties than those foreseen by law”) and sentenced Landa to two years of exile. The court also ordered that Landa be fined 2,493 roubles for the benefit of the housing bureau and 392 roubles 87 kopecks for the benefit of Kutin.

On 29 June, the Moscow Regional court heard the appeal in Landa’s case and upheld the sentence.

At the police-station Landa received an order assigning her to travel to the settlement of Vershino-Shakhmatinsky in the Shelopugino district of Chita Region. On 6 July Landa set off into exile. The Chita Department of Internal Affairs at first did not want to accept Landa: “We don’t service Moscow.” In addition, exiles were not sent to Shelopugino district at all. Only after a phone call from Moscow was she able to set off for her appointed destination.

The deputy police chief of Shelopugino told Landa that he would force her to work: “This not a holiday resort for you!” He refused to give her a residence document, and without this the district social welfare department will not issue her pension.


 “After one and a half centuries” (7 July 1977).

“… Malva Landa is a ‘dissenter’. Malva Landa is trying to achieve democratic rights and freedoms for all Soviet citizens. Consequently, Malva Landa must be removed from Moscow. That was the reason why the fire, from which she herself suffered, was declared to be the ‘criminal act’ of an arsonist. . .

“This is why Malva Landa is serving a term in exile. She has been exiled to the same place as the Decembrists and Chernyshevsky. And in effect for the same thing — demanding freedom for the oppressed and those without rights.”

Raisa Lert, Pyotr Grigorenko, Zinaida Grigorenko, Valentin Turchin, Vladimir Kornilov and Tatyana Velikanova.