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Political Prisoners on Hunger Strike to Protest Soviet Human Rights

October 2, 1991

MOSCOW (AP) _ Three political prisoners have been waging a hunger strike in Siberia to protest Soviet human rights abuses since a 38-nation conference on rights began in Moscow three weeks ago, newly freed prisoners said Tuesday.

The hunger strike is a reminder that while the Soviets have promised to review the cases of political prisoners following last month’s coup, up to 100 are still behind bars.

″Repressions haven’t stopped, they even increased″ after the Russian Federation elected a parliament in June 1990 and established a human rights committee, said Valery Yanin.

Yanin was released on Sept. 17 after 12 years in prison on a host of charges including treason. He had fled the Soviet Union nad lived briefly in the United States but was captured after returning to get his family out.

Prisoners such as Aleksei Shcherbakov, a hijacker released from a six-year sentence on Friday, described years of solitary confinement, beatings, forced use of psychiatric drugs and psychological pressure.

″We tried to cling to each other and be together as political prisoners because each of us had been fighting against the Soviet power in their own way, and the rights of all of us were violated,″ Shcherbakov said.

Valery Smirnov, who spent 9 1/2 years in prison on a treason charge, said Russia’s human rights committee led by former political prisoner Sergei Kovalev ″was the first Soviet official organization that spoke out in defense of political prisoners.″

″That was the first step and it’s very important,″ said Smirnov, who also was arrested after returning to see his family. He had defected in Norway on a scientific exchange and went to live in the United States.

Six former political prisoners from the Perm 35 camp in Siberia spoke at a news conference. Shcherbakov, Smirnov and three others were pardoned by Russian Federation President Boris Yeltsin and freed last Friday. Yanin was pardoned by President Askar Akayev of Kirgizia.

Shcherbakov revealed details of the hunger strike and distributed a list of 10 political prisoners still being held at the camp.

Western diplomats said nine of the prisoners fall under the jurisdiction of the Soviet Union and would have to be pardoned by President Mikhail Gorbachev. The 10th falls under the jurisdiction of Tadzhikistan.

All 10 initially took part in the hunger strike along with the six who were freed, said the Western diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The three on the hunger strike were identified as Igor Fedotkin, Viktor Makarov and Vladimir Potashov.

Shcherbakov said the 24-year-old Fedotkin, also convicted of hijacking, has vowed to continue without food indefinitely. He said Fedotkin has lost more tha 20 pounds.

″I want you to pay special attention to this young man,″ he said. ″I think we need his life rather than another funeral ceremony.″

Makarov and Potashov plan to end their hunger strike when delegates to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, or CSCE, end their meeting on Friday, Shcherbakov said.

Makarov, 36, was a KGB officer who tried to expose a plot by the KGB to provide disinformation to the Soviet government. Both he and Potashov were convicted of collaborating with Western intelligence.

Alexander Goldovich, caught trying to flee the country on a rubber raft, delivered a message from Makarov: ″He launched an initiative to continue his struggle for human rights and for the rights of political prisoners.″

The other freed prisoners were Viktor Olisnevich, charged with relaying information to a NATO country, and Anatoly Khobta, a member of the Spetsnaz special forces.

Khobta said in early 1989 he attempted to tell foreign journalists the West was being cheated in the reduction of strategic weapons because the Soviets transferred three army divisions to the navy, which meant more than 1,000 tanks in those divisions weren’t counted.

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