Voices from the Past (No. 08): Mustafa Dzhemilev Continues his Hunger Strike (Part Two)

“Did you see your Mustafa, then, so small and thin?” 

As a protest against the trumped-up charges brought against him (see Voices from the Past (No. 7): Mustafa Dzhemilev, Part 1) Mustafa Dzhemilev continued his hunger strike. It would be constantly halted and resumed over the following ten months, during which time he was moved to a prison in Siberia. As he explained to his alarmed supporters (Andrei Sakharov, Yelena Bonner Pyotr and Zinaida Grigorenko) and to his family, on hunger-strike he was kept in solitary confinement, thereby avoiding the stool-pigeons and provocateurs who would otherwise be put in his cell. 

By the time he came to trial his physical condition was appalling. As described by those who travelled to Omsk to support him there, and in Lydia Chukovskaya’s graphic denunciation by (“The Face of Inhumanity” CCE 40.3 (a)), Dzhemilev stood with difficulty and found it hard to speak after months of force-feeding. The verdict at his trial in May 1976 (CCE 40.3) was a foregone conclusion. The event was dramatic, nevertheless. 

In court a fellow convict, Vladimir Dvoryansky, also aged 26, refuted all the testimony he had given against Dzhemilev under threats and intimidation, while both Andrei Sakharov and Yelena Bonner were taken from the courtroom to the police station. 

Dzhemilev was given two and a half years’ in a strict-regime corrective labour camp and sent yet further east, to serve his sentence in the Maritime Region of the Soviet Far East, several thousand miles from his family in Uzbekistan (CCE 42.4). This vindictive treatment, bearing no relation to due judicial process, was the subject of the first of many documents (CCE 41.8) drawn up and distributed by the newly-formed Moscow Helsinki Group.

Forty years later Mustafa Dzhemilev would appeal, as his friends had once done, to Nadia Savchenko, the Ukrainian air-force pilot imprisoned in Moscow, to halt her hunger strike. 

Foreword and annotation by John Crowfoot 

(Source: A Chronicle of Current Events, 31 December 1975, Issue 38)
Mustafa has managed to send a letter to a friend from the pre-trial detention centre in Omsk [Siberia]. He writes:

On the whole things are much the same with me. On 18 August I was examined by the doctors; their observations were as follows: pulse 57, temperature 35.5° C, blood pressure 90/60, weight 45 kg.

They say that people “are not allowed to die” here. This is probably true, because on the same day, 18 August, I was transferred to the prison hospital where I was given injections of glucose and vitamin B 1, in addition to the daily intravenous injections. On 26 August I was once more transferred to my cell in the basement, but on 1 September they had to take me back to the hospital, as my stomach trouble was making me very ill. They kept me there for four days, and today, 5 September, I was taken back to the basement again.

The investigators are not bothering me.

Let me tell you about something which happened on 12 August. That morning Lieutenant-Colonel Surov, the prison commandant, came into my cell. He asked when I would end my hunger strike. On hearing that I did not intend to end it, he began to shower me with insults. He had discovered what an anti-Soviet scoundrel I was, he said, and I was naive to think that a hunger-strike would help gain my freedom. He concluded by inspecting the cell. When he noticed some inscriptions on the wall he ordered me to be given a brush and some whitewash to paint them out, although he could see from the nature of the inscriptions that I had nothing to do with them. He could also see that I was barely able to stand up.

“If he doesn’t obey — punish him!” he said to the warder on duty. They could have punished me by removing my bedding and fastening back the folding bunk so that I would have had to lie on the wet cement floor.

When the warder hinted to him in the corridor that such bullying might provoke an act of desperation on my part, the commandant said, “Let him hang himself — that would be even better!” I realized that in certain circles my suicide would be regarded as the most desirable solution ….

Don’t fail to phone Moscow and convey my gratitude and greetings to A. D. Sakharov and Zinaida Mikhailovna [Grigorenko].

Goodbye, my friend.

Mustafa Dzhemilev

5 September 1975

P. G. Grigorenko asked the lawyer Shveisky to pass on an appeal to Mustafa from all his friends to end his hunger-strike. Mustafa replied that he was against self-torture on principle, but that a hunger-strike was not only a form of protest. It was also a defence against the possible appearance of new false witnesses among his cell-mates: while on hunger-strike, he was kept in solitary confinement.

In the middle of October the Omsk Region Court passed Dzhemilev’s case back to the investigators for further investigation.

On 4 November P. G. Grigorenko sent a statement to the RSFSR Procurator’s Office. M. Dzhemilev was being kept in a damp cell, he wrote, and was on hunger-strike “as a protest against the unfounded charges against him and in order to prevent false witnesses being planted on him”. To drag out the investigation was to risk a fatality. Grigorenko asked that imprisonment be replaced by any other form of restraint which did not involve deprivation of freedom. He expressed his readiness to act as a guarantor for Dzhemilev or to find other guarantors.

On 24 November a reply came from the Omsk Procurator’s Office — a refusal. In the middle of November Mustafa’s mother and brother were allowed to visit him. Mustafa was very weak and fainted.

On 29 November a press conference was called, in which P. G. Grigorenko and Nasfiye Khairova, Dzhemilev’s sister, took part.

Nasfiye recounted how her brother had been persecuted by the authorities since 1966. She said: “At our request Pyotr Grigorevich wrote to the RSFSR Procurator’s Office, to ask that Mustafa be released on bail until the trial, so that we could feed him properly.” In the RSFSR Procurator’s Office they had laughed at her: “If we released hunger-strikers, then everyone would go on hunger-strike.” Nasfiye also described her journey to Moscow:

At the airport I was searched. They said they were looking for explosives. I asked why they were searching only me and letting other people go through without being searched. I received no comprehensible reply. When they were searching my handbag, they pulled out a notebook and leafed through it, reading all my notes. I asked if explosives could be inserted among the notes in the handbook. Again they muttered something indistinct.

On 3 December Mustafa’s parents, four sisters and two brothers, appealed to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and leaders of communist parties, calling on them to save Mustafa’s life.

On the same day Z. M. Grigorenko, P. G. Grigorenko, Nasfiye Khairova, Reshat Dzhemilev and A. D. Sakharov sent a letter to the UN, demanding a public investigation of Dzhemilev’s case by a special commission.

On 18 December the following “Report on Mustafa Dzhemilev” was circulated in Moscow:

The trial of Mustafa Dzhemilev was fixed for 17 December 1975 in the city of Omsk.

Defence counsel Shveisky, defence witnesses and relatives came to the courthouse on the morning of 16 December.

The presiding judge of the [Omsk] Region Court who was also hearing M. Dzhemilev’s case, Yu. I. Anosov, was not at his place of work. He arrived only towards the end of the working day. He did not grant the lawyer’s request to see the accused so as to be able to prepare his case, justifying his refusal by the lateness of the hour. He promised that the meeting would be allowed on the morning of the 17th.

On 17 December in the morning the court secretary announced that Anosov had been taken ill and had been driven from his home to the hospital in an ambulance. The trial was postponed indefinitely. The lawyer was not allowed to meet his client.

Mustafa is continuing his hunger-strike. His sisters saw him being taken to a prison van. Mustafa resembled a skeleton with skin tightly drawn over its bones. He seemed to have grown smaller and could hardly walk.

The court secretary ironically asked Mustafa’s sister: “Did you see your Mustafa, then, so small and thin?”

We have managed to establish that Anosov was at the courthouse that morning. He was not taken to the hospital. After ringing his secretary once again we were told: “Anosov has suddenly been taken ill.”

We are firmly convinced that the trial was deliberately postponed, that this was planned in advance as a bureaucratic trick to deprive Mustafa of a qualified defence lawyer and the presence of defence witnesses.

His relatives have suffered great material hardship because of the expense of travelling to the trial.

The calculated aim is clear: to conceal the illegal, fabricated charges from his people and world public opinion by means of a closed trial with no witnesses.

Reshat Dzhemilev, Nasfiye Khairova, Gulzar Dzhemileva, Enver Seferov, Anatoly Kudryashov, [undecipherable].

950 Crimean Tatars, some living in the Crimea (about 600) and some in Uzbekistan, have put their signatures to a document demanding “Freedom for Mustafa Dzhemilev”.