Sarah Hurst: An Open Letter to Vladimir Bukovsky

posted 28 Apr 2016, 10:11 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Apr 2016, 08:52 ]
Thursday, 28 April 2016

Dear Mr. Bukovsky,

Recently we met for the first time. We talked about your release from a Soviet prison in 1976 and exchange for a Chilean prisoner in Zurich. We discussed the effectiveness of hunger strikes and public campaigns in cases such as that of Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko, now being held in a Moscow prison. I could not then have imagined that you would yourself soon begin a hunger strike.

Nadiya Savchenko used the only method available to her when faced by Russia, a dictatorship that scorns the rule of law. In the UK I believe we have the rule of law, our courts are independent and our juries are impartial. I cannot see a need for hunger strikes, therefore, especially by someone like yourself who is not being held in custody.

In a statement you issued on April 23 you complained that the UK courts are taking too long to hear your libel case. Not as long as the families of the Hillsborough disaster victims. Only now have they heard that their loved ones were unlawfully killed 27 years ago, at the football match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest. They still have a fight ahead of them, moreover, to prosecute the culprits.

They did not achieve this goal by going on hunger strike, they fought for justice in the courts. British justice can indeed be slow, as we see from that example. The slowness is not necessarily deliberate, nor is it unique to your case.

It is unrealistic, if not legally impermissible, furthermore, for the UK legal system to meet your demand and hear your libel case BEFORE your trial, scheduled to start on 16 May before judge and jury at Cambridge Crown Court. The libel case should be decided after a verdict is reached in that criminal trial. This is only logical. Without knowing if you are guilty of the charges or not, surely a judge cannot determine whether you have been libelled? Naturally, if you are found innocent next month you can pursue your libel case.

Next. I cannot understand the basis of your claim of libel or defamation against the Crown Prosecution Service. Announcing or reporting the fact that someone has been criminally charged is not usually a libellous act. If the CPS had not published a statement on its website that you had been charged and on what charges, these same facts would have been reported when you appeared in court in Cambridge.

You say in your statement that there has been repeated exaggeration or distortion in the reporting of your case in the UK. So far as I can see, no one has prejudged you or said anything negative about you, other than stating that the charges have been brought. I have not heard that anyone in the UK has campaigned against you because you are a Soviet dissident. If they are doing so, it has not been publicised.

Probably most members of the British public today will not have heard of you. Few of them would see being a Soviet dissident as something negative, and a reason to vilify you. Any jury in your criminal case will, like me, want only to hear the evidence presented by both sides. Your background will be irrelevant to the case, except as it relates to any concrete facts you produce about Kremlin involvement.

Throughout your life you have campaigned for fair and open trials, first in the USSR and then from your new home in this country. Now you have the chance of an open trial yourself. Please, therefore, present your case in court on May 16 and stop this hunger strike before you do irreparable damage to your health.

If you persist in the claim that the UK cannot give you a fair trial, I must say I find such a statement very odd. It suggests that the verdict in all our criminal cases are potentially tainted by politics. Having followed trials in Russia and this country I do not think our courts are like those in Russia. I am surprised and disappointed that you seem to do so.

I remain confident that justice will be done in your case. I ask you, after the past year’s preparation to answer these charges, to take up this challenge – have your day in court before the public and the media, face judge and jury in Cambridge in three weeks’ time.

Yours sincerely,

Sarah Hurst