Sick Stalin-era criminal to stay in prison

  • 2001-03-29
  • Nick Coleman
RIGA - A Latvian court on March 22 ruled that a former Stalin-era secret policeman must remain in prison, despite pleas by prison doctors that he is too sick.

Mikhail Farbtukh, 84, is a former high-ranking officer in the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, in the eastern Latvia city of Daugavpils. In 1999 he was convicted 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.

Due to Farbtukh's condition the court convened in Riga's Matisa Prison, where he is being held. The court ruled he could not be released because he had not developed any new illnesses in addition to those he was suffering from when he was sentenced.

On hearing the ruling Farbtukh responded: "I have managed to hold out for eight months, but another eight are unlikely," according to a Baltic News Service report.

Lidija Bubnenkova, chairwoman of the prison service's medical commission said she had never before seen a prisoner who was so sick. Finding fellow prisoners or outside volunteers to help provide the constant care he needs is proving difficult, she said. "It's very hard, both for him and for us," she told BNS.

The court said it was the prison administration's responsibility to provide the necessary care. Farbtukh's lawyer Alexander Ogurtsov argued that the conditions under which he was being held amounted to torture.

Leonard Pavils, press secretary at the Ministry of Justice, said he doubted the prison service was unable to care for Farbtukh. But, he conceded, "it's no secret that prison conditions in Latvia are much worse than elsewhere in Europe."

Farbtukh and 76-year-old Karl-Leonhard Paulov in Estonia are the only people known to be serving jail sentences for repressive activities carried out under Stalin's regime.

Alfons Noviks, formerly head of Latvia's NKVD, died in prison in 1996 at age 89. Last year Latvia's supreme court overturned the war crimes conviction of 78-year-old former Soviet partisan Vassily Kononov, but a retrial is expected.

Farbtukh was accused of deporting 31 families, including children, and has maintained his innocence.

Peteris Simsons, vice-president of the non-governmental Commission for the Evaluation of the Crimes of Totalitarian Regimes, is currently waiting to give evidence in the trial of genocide suspect Ilja Moshonkin, who Simsons says was involved in his deportation at the age of one.

Prosecutors completed their investigation of Moshonkin nearly two years ago, but a trial has yet to begin. Farbtukh should be treated in accordance with west European norms, says Simsons.

"Old age and bad health are no reason for an early release, but Farbtukh has every reason to claim early release if conditions are not suitable for someone of his age in his condition; if the administration can't ensure conditions that at least equal those in Europe. He could be transferred to an old people's home."