Latvian prison official pushes for Soviet agent's release

  • 2001-02-08
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - A former Stalin-era secret policeman should be released from prison on health grounds, says the head of Latvia's prison service.

Mikhail Farbtukh, 84, is a former head of Stalin's secret service, the NKVD, in Daugavpils in eastern Latvia. He was convicted in 1999 for his involvement in mass deportations of Latvians to Siberia in 1941, prior to Latvia's occupation by the Nazis. He was sentenced last May to seven years imprisonment, which was later reduced to five years.

Vitolds Zahars, head of Latvia's prison service said Farbtukh had been transferred to a prison hospital for tests to determine his condition earlier this week on the instructions of the prosecutor general's office. Following the tests he was transferred back to his cell at Matisa prison in Riga "against our will," said Zahars.

"We hope he will be released. His condition is very bad. Justice has already been served. The court found him guilty and sentenced him."

But Dzintra Subrovska, spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office says Farbtukh can't yet be released.

"He has to serve half his term," she said. "If necessary he can be transferred to the prison hospital. If their services are inadequate he can be moved to another hospital."

Farbtukh and 76-year-old Karl-Leonhard Paulov in Estonia are the only people known to be serving jail sentences specifically for repressive activities carried out under Stalin's regime. Farbtukh was accused of deporting 31 families, including children, and admitted his guilt.

MPs in Latvia's For Fatherland and Freedom party have expressed their opposition to releasing Farbtukh.

Nils Muiznieks, director of the Center for Human Rights and Ethnic Studies, said that the decision should balance the need for justice to be done with concerns about prisoners dying in prison.

"People can't be allowed to commit crimes with impunity, but it's also undesirable to have people dying in prison," he said.