Grigory Pasko on Russia’s Parole Process, Part 2

[Editor’s note: In light of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s recent parole request, we asked our correspondent (and former political prisoner) Grigory Pasko to share his experience going through the process of applying for conditional early release. See Part 1 here.] Conditional, very conditional…. Part 2 Grigory Pasko, journalist For some reason they once called me to the chief of the colony. Practically all of his deputies had gathered there. The colonel showed a letter which I had sent to my wife two weeks earlier. “In your letter”, said he, “there is such a phrase: ‘If only I knew who the bastard was who had crossed me off the incentive list…’ We consider that this – is a use of a non-censorial [curiously, in Russian this means “censorable”—Trans.] word, an insult to the official persons of the institution and to state power as a whole. An investigation will be conducted and a report drawn up”. sizo.jpg The investigative isolator (SIZO) in Chita, where Mikhail Khodorkovsky is now found. He may be denied conditional early release for any absurd reason whatsoever. (Photo by Grigory Pasko)

The investigation was conducted by three officers. They interrogated me for about an hour, managing to use mainly non-censorial words. I brought their attention to the idiotism of the situation: they’re accusing me of non-censorialism, while they themselves are unceasingly using obscene language. “Get out of here”, said they, “and forget about UDO [conditional early release, or parole—Trans.] Any questions?” “Yes”, say I. “All the same, who is that bastard who crossed me off the list?”On the next day in the workshop, absorbed in my unpleasant thoughts, I accidentally cut my hand on the cutter. The wound turned out to be small, but deep. I was unable to stop the blood from flowing, so I had to go to the sanitary unit. Right from the sanitary unit they sent me to the deputy chief of the colony for operative work. The chekist said: “We are examining the question of initiating in relation to you a criminal case on the basis of the fact of self-mutilation… We could decide not to examine it. You merely have to admit your guilt…” I said that I had not admitted my guilt in two trials and had appealed the verdict in the Strasbourg court, yet for some reason he naively thinks that I’ll do this in their filthy colony. “But you do understand”, exclaimed the lieutenant-colonel, “that you’ve put the knife to your own conditional early release?” “I don’t understand”, I replied, and went back to the workshop.In the meantime, already at the beginning of January 2003 from the newspapers and television (I had been deprived of the opportunity to get letters, to make telephone calls, to meet with my wife and lawyers from the middle of December 2002) it became known to me that the Constitutional Court of the RF had ruled lawful the right of convicts to directly, bypassing the administration of a colony, apply with a petition on conditional early release to a court. Which I did. As soon as I officially, through the special unit of the colony, sent off my petition, a long telegram arrived from lawyer Ivan Pavlov, in which he wrote out in detail the procedure for applying to the court. It was likewise reported that to the court session would come Pavlov and my social defender [non-lawyers may also serve as defenders in Russian courts—Trans.], director of the Russian PEN-centre Alexander Tkachenko.sud072408The Ingodinsky District Court of Chita, which will be examining the petition of Mikhail Khodorkovsky on conditional early release. (Photo by Grigory Pasko)Of course, I know that the camp administration’s spies are always watching me. I was therefore exceedingly careful not to give my adversaries even the slightest excuse to acquire any kind of trump cards in their efforts to deprive me at any cost of the opportunity to get released before the end of my term. By that time, I was found in places of deprivation of liberty for three years already, and had learned our Russian laws pretty well. (The laws, it should be noted, are something else. For example, Art.11 of the Criminal-Execution [Penal—Trans.] Code is called “Principal duties of convicts” and states that convicts “must execute duties”. Art.12 – “Principal rights of convicts” – talks about how “convicts shall have the right to information about their duties”). I understood that the administration of the colony had received from the KGB an order to use any means not to allow me to leave under conditional early release. At the same time, the application on conditional early release is going to have to be examined by the civilian court of the city of Ussuriysk – the first civilian court throughout the entire long tale of my prosecution since 1997. (I was tried by military courts, while the cassational appeals were examined by the military collegium of the Supreme Court.)Some two weeks before court, they called me from work to the barrack. Feeling with every fiber of my body that there was something fishy going on, that this was a provocation, I demanded a written order to leave the workplace. The barrack day-duty zek went away, and after a while the acting chief of the detachment came and personally led me away to the barrack. There, in his office, he conducted a session of the so-called detachment council. This is when several activists from the number of the zeks decide whether or not a zek is deserving of conditional early release. A profanation of democracy behind the barbed wire. Looking at me were convicts who each had 10-15 years under their belts, including several round-trips to the zone (and this a strict-regime zone!). When one of them asked, in a voice that sounded like he’d just recently memorized the phrase, whether or not I admit my guilt and whether or not I regret what had been done, I turned to the young acting chief of the detachment: “Citizen chief! If our brigade today doesn’t send a finished consignment of doors to the customer, there will be trouble for the entire detachment. We need every hand we’ve got there…” The chief let me go.In the Criminal-Execution Code is said that the administration of an institution no later than within 10 days after the submission of a petition on conditional early release shall send to the court the petition together with a character reference. My petition was not sent to the court even a month later. Therefore, I sent it myself by registered post in the special unit. Besides this, lawyer Pavlov duplicated my petition from his end. In such a manner, only a character reference was required from the colony. The one they wrote amazed even old-timer zeks later on. No doubt all the interested parties took part in the writing, including people from the KGB….The planned extramural session of the Ussuri City Court for the examination of applications for conditional early release took place in the camp on 22 January. I wasn’t on the lists. The kumanek [the camp’s KGB “operative worker”—Trans.] malevolently sneered during encounters, many zeks genuinely sympathized.On the 22nd after lunch they called me to the meeting room. Pavlov and Tkachenko were waiting there. Apparently, I must have looked horrible, because they practically in one voice said that the court with respect to my application would take place tomorrow and that all this hell would soon be over.On 23 January at two o’clock in the afternoon, they called me into one of the offices of the administration. Already there were a judge of the Ussuri City Court, a procurator from the Krai procuracy (a rare phenomenon at such sessions), three employees of the colony, including the acting chief of the detachment, Pavlov and Tkachenko. I read out my petition on conditional early release, noted that I had already done two thirds of the term of deprivation of liberty established by the court and that I did not have violations of the regime of detention in custody. The detachment chief read out the character reference: he was not an activist, did not participate in amateur artistic activity, did not admit guilt, did not regret what had been done, to release is inadvisable. The procurator, who was seeing me for the first time in his life, supported the representative of the colony.The judge opened a very thick tome and read out other character references of me, including from the SIZO. From the SIZO they sent two character references – one had been written two weeks before the court, the other – two days before. The first stated that I did not have violations, the second – that I did. After this, the court recessed for the adoption of a decision. The next three hours were probably the most difficult in the entire year lived before this. In her decree, judge Maria Stebnovskaya came to a conclusion about satisfaction of my petition. The employees of the colony were in shock. The procurator tried to object about something right there in the hall where the decree of the court had just been proclaimed. In the corridor, Pavlov and Tkachenko immediately came up to an employee of the colony and asked when realistically I can be released. She said: as soon as the decree from the court comes to us in the office. She did not hide her malevolence: usually, this takes ten days. We all understood perfectly well that in ten days, anything at all could happen with me. I went back to the barrack, my defenders – to the city court. After five o’clock in the evening, they called me to the administration building and said to gather my things. The gathering took about twenty minutes.Today it is hard to say whose decision about conditional early release in fact played a role in my release. It’s entirely possible that certain forces entered into confrontation: one group (the KGB) demanded to keep me in the camp, others (I can only conjecture who they could be) – to release. While they were negotiating, the court decided to act in accordance with the law, all the more so because precisely according to the law there were ALL grounds for my conditional early release.One thing I can say for certain: if not for the active intervention on the part of my defenders (lawyers, human rights advocates from the Glasnost Defense Foundation, the PEN-centre, “Amnesty International”, “Human Rights Watch”), international journalistic organizations (“Reporters Without Borders”), this release would likely never have occurred. The state-repressive apparat regards conditional early release not as a lawful procedure, but as a gift to the convict, as alms to him, as a condescending kind of charity: We feel sorry for you so we’ll have mercy on you. But we could also let you rot in the ShIZO if we feel like it. As a rule, nobody pays any attention to the thirds of terms already served. Front and center is – loyalty to the regime.Actually, in today’s Russia this loyalty has become front and center in all areas of life. Because everybody – from bankers and oligarchs to cops and simple people – understands: they are free – conditionally. Very conditionally…