Riga court frees jailed Stalinist agent

  • 2002-03-14
  • J. Michael Lyons,

The only known Stalinist-era secret police agent imprisoned in the Baltic countries was released from jail March 13 after a Riga court ruled he was too ill to finish serving his term.

Mikhail Farbtukh, 85, was jailed in May 2000 after being convicted on charges he helped deport scores of Latvians in Daugavpils in 1941. He was sentenced to seven years in prison - though that term was later reduced to five years.

A Riga district court upheld Farbtukh's request that he be released from a cramped cell in the city's Matisa Prison for health reasons.

"He is a sick man and he should not have been in jail," said Vitolds Zahars, director of Latvian Central Prison Administration. "It's absolutely the right decision."

Farbtukh suffers from diabetes and other health problems and requires around-the-clock care.

Farbtukh and his family have lobbied authorities for his release since he began serving the sentence, including several court appeals.

The court had previously turned down his appeals.

His wife Anna and son Vladimir filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in January.

Zahars said he believed that the appeal to Strasbourg added pressure on the Riga court and led to the Riga court's decision to release Farbtukh.

Farbtukh is the only man known to have been serving jail time specifically for repressions carried out during Josef Stalin's reign.

Karl-Leonhard Paulov, 77, died in an Estonian prison in February while serving an eight-year prison term for crimes against humanity. His death left Farbtukh as the only known Stalinist agent to be imprisoned.

A handful of other suspected Stalinist agents have charges pending against them in Latvia, but no trial dates have been set.

At least 15 million people were killed and some 40 million deported - including more than 200,000 people from the Baltics - by the vast communist secret police apparatus during Stalin's rule.

Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are the only ex-Soviet republics to prosecute Soviet agents for the Stalinist purges in the 1940s and 1950s. The countries have argued that the trials help bring justice to vicitims of the era.

Farbtukh was an officer in the notorious NKVD, the precursor to the KGB, in the Latvian city of Daugavpils after the Soviet Union occupied the three Baltic states in 1940. He was accused of deporting 31 families, including children, to Siberia.

Farbtukh has maintained his innocence.

Russian officials strongly criticized his conviction, saying Latvia was exacting revenge on an ailing, elderly man.