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Political prisoners and other victims of repression in Russia, yesterday and today: Forms of Moral Resistance

Elena Sannikova in Sakharov's centre.JPG

Over the past ten years, the level of repression has been rising in Russia. Today several hundred prisoners of conscience and political prisoners are imprisoned and detained in the country, a figure comparable to the late Soviet Union.

  • How does the repressive apparatus function?

  • What is the make-up of today’s contingent of political prisoner?

  • What forms of activity has civil society developed to withstand these repressive policies, and to provide a public defence and moral support to our political prisoners and other victims of political repression?

Elena Sannikova will be speaking about these issues and some of the most interesting and remarkable stories and individuals to be found among those imprisoned for their political views or religious beliefs.

This event is organised by Pushkin Club and all are welcome.

Elena Sannikova.jpg

Elena N. Sannikova was born in Moscow on 25 October 1959.

She first came to the attention of the KGB at university in Kalinin (today Tver) where she organised a Bible study group among fellow students. In summer 1980 she was expelled from the languages department and the university.

Elena joined the Action Group for the Defence of the Disabled. At the same time, she set up a support group for political prisoners, writing them letters and sending greetings cards to them on special occasions. In March 1981 the KGB gave her an official warning at Nelidovo village (Kalinin Region), where she had not long found employment as a kindergarten assistant, about her unacceptable activities.

From 1982 onwards, Elena worked for the Fund to Aid Political Prisoners and their Families, set up in 1974 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and his wife Natalya. She gathered information for Bulletin V, a samizdat  human rights publication, compiling a list of all political prisoners in the Soviet Union. She also wrote open letters and appeals, both individual and collective, on human rights issues. In December 1983, she compiled and circulated a bulletin entitled The Herald of the Human Rights Movement.

In January 1984 Elena was arrested by the KGB, charged with Anti-Soviet Agitation and Propaganda (Article 70), and incarcerated in Lefortovo Prison (Moscow). Later that year the Moscow City Court sentenced her to 12 months in a strict-regime labour camp, followed by four years’ internal exile. She had not yet reached her 25th birthday. After a short period in the Mordovian camps – she had  been in custody since January – she was sent to Siberia to the Tomsk Region to serve her term of exile.

In December 1987, Elena was granted  a pardon  by Mikhail Gorbachev as one of the last two women in the USSR serving a sentence under Article 70 of the RSFSR Criminal Code.*

In 1990, Eena Sannikova finished her degree course by graduating as an external student from the languages department of Tomsk University.

From 1988 to the end of 1992 Elena issued The prisoner’s notebook, a samizdat bulletin about the country’s remaining political prisoners and the lives and creative activities of former prisoners of conscience.

In 1994 Elena’s Russian translations of the verse of Ukrainian poet and dissident Vasyl Stus (1938-1985) were published by Simeon Vilensky at the Vozvrashchenie Press.

Between 1989 and 2007 Elena was again employed by the Solzhenitsyn Foundation as its charitable coordinator. Later she worked in Memorial’s archives and at the Sakharov Centre in Moscow.

In the early 21st century Lena became involved in anti-war activities  From December 2002 onwards, she travelled regularly to Chechnya to help people who had suffered from the fighting and she published a number of articles and reports about the victims of that war. In 2004 Lena prepared the diary of Chechen nurse Madina Elmurzayeva for publication and it appeared with her preface. Elmurzayeva was killed in Grozny in February 1995 during the first Chechen War when, as usual, she and her group were working to save the wounded.

Today the mother of four children, Lena lives in Moscow. She serves as an expert consultant for the movement “For Human Rights” and is a participant in the ecumenical and independent Christian Action movement.

Elena’s articles have been published in the weekly newspapers Russian Thought (Paris) and Obshchaya gazeta (Moscow), and in the Chechen magazine Dosh (Moscow). She is a regular contributor to the internet news websites Grani.ru and the Daily Magazine [Yezhednevny zhurnal] and writes prose and verse in her spare time.

Sannikova’s trial

«Вести из СССР» (Munich)

31 октября 1984 г. (19/20-15)

9 октября 1984 в Москве состоялся суд над Еленой Санниковой [1984, 16-14). Дело рассматривал Московский городской суд в помещении райнарсуда Люблинского района г.Москвы. Защищала Е.Санникову адвокат Е.Резникова. Е.Санникову обвиняли по ст.70 УК РСФСР в подписании правозащитных писем и обращений и в участии в издании “Хроники текущих событий”.

Е.Санникова была приговорена к 1 г.лагерей строгого режима и 4 г. ссылки. Поскольку еще предстоит кассационное рассмотрение дела, Е.Санникова, по-видимому, закончит год заключения в Лефортовской тюрьме и будет отправлена прямо в ссылку.

30 ноября 1984 г. (22-11)

Елена Санникова [1984, 19/20-15) не стала подавать кассационной жалобы. Сейчас она находится в пересыльной тюрьме (“Красная Пресня”?) в ожидании этапа в ссылку. Обвинение, предъявленное ей на суде, состояло из 5 пунктов, в их числе написание письма Папе Иоанну-Павлу II.


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