New light on Moscow's victims
Moscow's depredations in Afghanistan, lest anyone forget, are accompanied by its continuing aggression against Soviet citizens themselves. This has been dramatized in the past six months by crackdowns on dissidents ranging from the internationally celebrated Sakharov to obscure signers of a "Baltic appeal" for the independence of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Today comes publication of a grim report on the treatment of political prisoners in the Soviet Union. It suggests that things have not changed all that much since the period in the Siberian labor camps about which Solzhenitsyn wrote -- and which are recalled again in his new literary memoir describing the extraordinary measures of courage and concealment that brought his first publication in Russia. Indeed, the current victims of repression in psychiatric hospitals do not have even the limited rights of the prisoners in the camps.Skip to next paragraph
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That a Solzhenitsyn could surface, that someone like him could briefly break through the atmosphere of menace and reach an eventual public -- this whole story lends hope that something similar could happen again. Conceivably another Khrushchev could emerge to smile for his own reasons on another "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich" (Solzhenitsyn's first book).
But today's 200-page report by Amnesty International, an updated version of one it brought out in 1975, leaves no doubt of the odds against the Soviet protester and the punishment waiting behind the screen of judicial procedure. In four years after the previous report, Amnesty has learned of more than 400 persons newly imprisoned or similarly restricted for exercising fundamental human rights. This does not include those already imprisoned or the many additional cases in recent months. Nor does it include the many more "prisoners of conscience" likely to be counted if the real number were not "veiled by official censorship, secrecy, and the threat of retaliation against those who speak out against political imprisonment."
Western correspondents in Moscow have been informed of cases lately by friends of those arrested. Such episodes suggest the impulse to protest is not wholly erased. A sense that the outside world cares is important. Amnesty International is to be commended for continuing to present information to the conscience of all of us remote from such horrors.
In four years more than a hundred people are known to have been added to those forcibly confined to psychiatric hospitals for exercising human rights. Their treatment includes dangerous drugs, such as powerful tranquilizers. They are worse off even than the labor camp inmates in the sense that they lose their citizens' "status as rational subjects of the law" -- something specifically granted to the camp inmates. Thus they have no guaranteed process to seek redress. Many of them languish for years, pitifully debilitated mentally and physically, according to testimony of their relatives.
Of course, there remains a question of how much legal guarantees mean in the Soviet Union anyway. In practice, according to the report, courts convict for the mere expression of opinion. And: "Amnesty International still has not heard of a single case in which a Soviet court has acquitted anyone charged with a political or religious offence."
The hearts of all people of good will must go out to Moscow's victims, not only those in Afghanistan headlines but those hidden in the hospitals and camps of Moscow's internal empire.