The Suprun Case - or the Case of Russian Archives?
A court hearing session for the criminal case against Mikhail Suprun and Alexander Dudarev lasted for three days. On October 27, Ivan Pavlov, JD, PhD, IIFD Board Chair and Suprun’s defense attorney, spoke on the case at the press conference in the Memorial Research Center (St.-Petersburg), titled The Arkhangelsk Case against Historians and Archivists in Court. “The case against Mikhail Suprun has not been a “personal” criminal case, it is the case on access to Russian archives. The future of Russian historical science may depend on this case results: will researchers be able to work in archives without being afraid of any security structures?” Pavlov says.
After the three-day hearings, one more hearing session was scheduled for November 16-18.
We should remind that Professor Mikhail Suprun is accused of “personal and family secret” violation for having worked in the archive of the Arkhangelsk Oblast Department of Internal Affairs and studied cases of ethnical Germans who were repressed and committed to special settlements in Arkhangelsk Oblast during and after the World War II. In the prosecution side’s opinion, Suprun violated “personal and family secret” collecting the data on:
- who was deported by German occupying authorities to Germany or Poland and then repatriated to the USSR;
- who was mobilized to the German armed forces and took part in military operations against the Soviet (Red) Army;
- who was captured by the Soviet armed forces and sent to camps for war prisoners;
- who was convicted by Soviet judicial bodies;
- who was repatriated from Germany and accounted in special settlements in the Arkhangelsk Oblast.
Witnesses for the case, including archive employees and wronged persons’ relatives, were questioned in court for three days, and nobody of them appeared to be able to define what “personal or family secret” was. A staff member of the St.-Petersburg Archive Committee, speaking of the practice existing, was to acknowledge that classification of data as “personal or family secret” is not clearly defined by actual legislation.
It seemed that many of witnesses for the prosecution made more use for defense. A colleague of Suprun’s informed that while working in German archives, he had been provided with full access to all documentation, though it had been prohibited to cite some of papers (private letters, for example) for open public access.
At the press conference, Ivan Pavlov shared some details of the case:
“Observing how the court rejects some motions, asks wronged persons questions, or returns again and again to interrogation protocols made within preliminary investigation where a wronged person, face to face with an investigator, stated that he or she did not want the data to be disseminated, I have got a feeling that the court is inclined to guilty verdict. But, for the very first time in my long practice as an attorney, I believe a guilty verdict will be the best final – why? Because the criminal case against Suprun is part of a large and rather dark case on access to Russian archives. Unfortunately, no acquittal decided by a first-instance court could balance the negative situation aroused by the Suprun case in the sphere of access to archive information on political repressions.”
Pavlov informed that, in the opinion of many historians and archive employees (some of them were questioned here in the court), archives become more closed due to the Suprun case, and historians more often are afraid to ask archives for specific documents. A single acquittal in a single case hardly could improve the whole situation. “Meanwhile, a guilty verdict would open a straight way to the Constitutional Court of Russia where the issue of lawful or unlawful classification of information addressing political repressions as “personal or family secret” would be put to federal level”, Pavlov explains.
Here, we should point that, according to recent amendments to actual legislation, a citizen may apply to the Constitutional Court against any provision of a federal law (in this case, of the Article 137 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation) only providing a judicial act already in force, applying the law provision in question. So, to apply to the Constitutional Court, Mikhail Suprun should be officially found guilty and convicted. In theory, the court reviewing a case also can file a request to the Constitutional Court, and Pavlov filed a corresponding motion; however, the court will review it only when all parties of the case will complete providing all evidence.
The case essence is not in any evidence, but in absence of any legal base for accusation: there are no legal norms defining “personal and family secret” anyhow that could be applied by the prosecution. But the court has not had the last say yet.