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Amnesty International Reports on Imprisoned Dissenters in the USSR

May 1, 1980
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In a searing new indictment of political repression in the Soviet Union, Amnesty International, which defends prisoners of conscience, has accused the Soviet authorities of using hunger, forced labor and dangerous drugs to punish imprisoned dissenter.

The charges are listed in a 200-page report, issued yesterday, entitled “Prisoners of Conscience in the USSR: Their Treatment and Conditions.” A revised version of an Amnesty report first published in 1975, the document includes much recent evidence of the abuse of psychiatry for political repression and an analysis of Soviet law as applied to nonconformists.

Amnesty International says that between 1975 and mid-1979, when the latest report was compiled, it learned of more than 400 people newly imprisoned or restricted for exercising fundamental human rights. This is in addition to those imprisoned before then and scores of new cases since the latest report was completed. Many of the prisoners referred to in the report are Jews who have applied unsuccessfully to emigrate to Israel.

Once confined, prisoners of conscience are treated indiscriminately and routinely with powerful drugs which have dangerous side effects when used this way. These drugs, including potent tranquilizers, are administered as punishment and as a form of pressure on dissenters to renounce their views. Insulin shock treatment is one of these punishments.


Much of the harshest treatment is inflicted on those sent to special psychiatric hospitals where some prisoners have been known to have been kept for decodes. The report names Vasily Shipilov, who was first arrested in 1939 while studying in a religious seminary he was sentenced for “counter revolutionary activities” and ten years later was ruled mentally ill.

Shipilov’s case was virtually unknown until 1978 when it was exposed by an unofficial Soviet commission investigating the use of psychiatry for political purposes. He was finally released last year after spending more than 30 years in a mental hospital.

According to Amnesty International, Shipilov is far from being the only prisoner of conscience to have been held for more than 30 years. It published a photograph of a Ukrainian, Danylo Shumuk who is said to have been imprisoned for 35 years.


The plight of Jewish refusniks is dealt with in the report’s chapter on freedom of movement. It noted that between 1972 and 1977, the Soviet authorities permitted approximately 130,000 Jews to emigrate. During the some period, it allowed 40,000 Soviet Germans to leave for the West. There is also an emigration movement among Christian believers, particularly Baptists and Pentecostalists.

The report said that the Soviet authorities have made “significant concessions in allowing Jewish and German-origin citizens to emigrate.” However, it added: “The authorities have placed many difficult obstacles in the way of would-be emigrants. The application procedure is difficult, applicants being required to wait long periods for official permission to emigrate, while many are refused permission on a great variety of grounds.”

“Soviet Jews, Germans, religious believers and others have in many cases been imprisoned for persisting in their application to emigrate. The some has happened to people who have been active in public campaigning for official respect for the right to leave the country:”


The report gave names. It said that “Among Soviet Jews during the four years, preceding the writing of the report (the following) have been sentenced to imprisonment or exile for trying to emigrate through legal means: Joseph Begun, Grigory Goldstein, Boris Kalandorov, Anatoly Malkin, Ida Nudel, Lev Roitburd, Anatoly Shcharansky, Simon Shnirman, Alexander Silnitsky, Maria Slepak, Vladimir Slepak, Alexander Vilik, Yakov Vinarov, and Amner Zavurov.

“At least two Jews were confined briefly to psychiatric hospitals after submitting applications to emigrate: Lazar Brusilovsky (from Rostoy in 1977) and Yefim Pargammanik (from Kiev in 1977). Most of these prisoners, have been sentenced either under non-political articles of the criminal law or for refusing to obey call-up to obligatory service in the armed forces.”

Jews imprisoned for refusing to obey call-up papers between June 1975 and May 1979 are listed in the report as: Boris Kalandarov, Anatoly Malkin, Simon Shnirman, Alexander Silnitsky, Alexander Vilik, and Yakov Vinarov. “In each case, the subject had applied unsuccessfully for permission to leave the country and had been called up for military duty only after applying to emigrate,” Amnesty reported.

“In each case, the subject had a double motive for refusing military service. In the first place, each was a Jew who regarded himself as a citizen of Israel, a State which for many years has had hostile relations with the USSR. Second, each would have been aware that in many cases the authorities have refused would-be emigrants permission to leave the country on the formal grounds that, as a result of having served a period in the armed forces, they had access to sensitive information.

“On such grounds the authorities have refused Jews permission to emigrate for five years or longer, even where the person’s armed service did not involve any sensitive work or information. Soviet dissenters estimated in the mid-1970s that 40 percent of known refusals to permit Jews to emigrate were officially based on the fact that the applicant or his relatives had performed military service.”

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