Soviets Prepare Defense For Alleged Coup Plotters

Defense lawyers once represented victims of the men they now defend

SOVIET investigators and prosecutors are busy preparing the most important Soviet trial since the show trials of Stalin's purge victims in the late 1930s.The investigation of those alleged to have plotted the attempted August coup will be completed in two or three months, Russian Prosecutor General Valentin Stepankov told reporters recently. The case against these men would seem to be open and shut. All except parliament head Anatoly Lukyanov were openly involved in the putsch. But controversy over the hearing is already brewing and disputes are sure to grow as the event approaches. Defense lawyers say the charges of "treason against the motherland" do not apply to their clients, who were acting to their knowledge in defense of the "motherland." The defendants' rights to see the evidence on which charges are based have been abridged, they say. And in the latest turn of events, one of the lawyers has accused prosecutors of trying to close the trial to the public on grounds that state secrets will be disclosed. A team of 75 prosecution investigators from Russia and other republics is gathering evidence. Criminal cases against 20 people are under way and 14 people have been arrested, including seven of the eight men who formed the so-called "emergency committee" that led the coup (one of them, former Interior Minister Boris Pugo, killed himself before arrest). The others include Communist Party officials, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's chief of staff, a senior Army commander, parliament head Lukyanov, and three top KGB officers.

Defending coup leaders Arrayed against this powerful state prosecution is a group of lawyers, most of whom have spent their professional lives defending the victims of the men they are now representing. Ghenri Reznik is the proud descendent of the chief rabbi of Odessa and the less-than-proud relative of a man whom he will only describe as a "key figure of Bolshevism," killed by Stalin in the late 1930s. He is widely known as a human-rights activist, and a leader of Helsinki Watch, many of whose members were arrested by the KGB secret police. Mr. Reznik takes it as a matter of professional pride that the family of KGB Gen. Yuri Plekhanov, head of the presidential guard, called to seek his services. When he went to the isolation jail where Mr. Plekhanov is held, he brought a letter from the family stating they had employed him. "Plekhanov said he had heard of me," Reznik says, adding with a smile that he didn't know "whether he knew about me in his capacity as a member of the KGB." The silver-haired Reznik, like other lawyers on the case, refuses to talk about the details of the coup. But he describes his client as a "courageous person, a person who has his convictions - let's not judge them - and a person who has no wish to hide behind the backs of other people." The KGB general has his own ideas about where the country should go, the liberal lawyer continues, "but in no way is he a communist fanatic." Reznik spent much of his career as a law professor, training the investigators and prosecutors he now faces. Perhaps this is why he was the first to formulate a basis for defense that other lawyers are now echoing. All 14 defendants are charged under Article 64 of the criminal code of the Russian republic, which details crimes of "treason against the motherland," including various forms of espionage. Among this list is the crime of "conspiracy with the goal of seizing power."

Betraying the 'motherland' Reznik argues this formula cannot be applied to his client. "Betrayal of Gorbachev - does that mean betrayal of the motherland?" he asks. "The Bolsheviks wrote this article in this way ... because they did not anticipate something like this would happen. We don't have an article dedicated to betrayal of the president." Indeed Article 64 does not even refer to the Constitution, or its violation. "This article is very ideological," says Alexander Kligman, lawyer for KGB Col. Gen. Viktor Gurshko. "What is the legal sense of the word 'motherland?' " Besides, he asks, "Can powers be seized by people already endowed with a huge amount of power?" Mr. Kligman has spent his career defending big-time Soviet mafia criminals and the emerging Soviet private businessmen who were the targets of the very KGB division headed by General Grushko. Perhaps, he hints, that is how he got his job. Like the other lawyers, Kligman has no complaints so far about access to his client. He has met him twice privately and sat in on the interrogations conducted by the investigators in a small room with a barred window in Isolation Facility No. 4. The lawyer is not allowed to interrupt, but can ask his own questions afterward for the record. The defendant also has the right to refuse to answer, a right employed by Mr. Lukyanov, whose arrest was conducted illegally, says his lawyer, Genrik Padva. Mr. Padva, Kligman, and others complain that, due to a conflict between Soviet and Russian criminal procedures, they are not given access to evidence on which the charges are based. The prosecutors are following a Soviet law, ironically introduced last year by the KGB, which bars access to the evidence until the investigation is complete.

Keeping trials open But by far the most serious charge about the conduct of the case has been raised by Reznik. He told the Monitor on Sunday that a Russian investigator came to him the previous day and said Reznik had to obtain a special permit to act as defender. "This institution of permits was begun in the beginning of the 1970s in cases involving political dissidents," he explains. The permit is issued by the KGB and the aim has been to block certain lawyers on the grounds that the case involved state secrets. Reznik sees this as the first step to closing the trial. "It is a grave violation of human rights and of the rights of defense," he says, adding that he is "at a loss" why the democrat-led Russian government would do such a thing. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office did not deny the allegation but refused to comment on it. Asked at his Sept. 6 press conference whether the trial would be open, the prosecutor general replied the issue would be decided by the court, adding secret materials are associate d with the case. Kligman believes the trial will be open in the end. "It has acquired a great public and political importance," he argues. Though the trial is sure to be extraordinary, the lawyers say they will defend these clients as they would any other. "I will defend General Plekhanov in the same professional and uncompromising way I defended the human rights activists," Reznik says.

QR Code to Soviets Prepare Defense For Alleged Coup Plotters
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today