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Dr. Yuri Orlov

President of the Russian Federation
Vladimir Vladimirovich PUTIN
g. Moskva, Kreml
Russian Federation

24 March 2005

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich!
I write to express my disquiet over the criminal prosecution of Yuri Samodurov, Anna Mikhalchuk and Ludmila Vasilovskaya in the case concerning the Sakharov Museum exhibit on religion.
This prosecution violates international norms. It violates the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression (Article 29) and of artistic activity (Article 44). Finally, in being initiated in the Duma, it is a legislative invasion of the judicial sphere. This is not simply unconstitutional (Article 10), but violates one of the foundations of a civilized, modern democratic state.
I think you understand all this perfectly well. I am prepared to accept that you want only the best for Russia. Yet I think you still do not believe that Russia can be a peaceful and healthy nation only if it is fundamentally democratic and follows its own laws. This does not mean that Russia should be a mirror-image of Germany, say, or the United States. Russia has its special needs and its special genius. However, she will never flourish if the Russian people are not treated with respect.
To ignore the Constitution and international standards of human rights, as the Samodurov case does, expresses not respect but contempt for the Russian people. To aim to create an atmosphere intimidation and fear, as the case does, expresses similar contempt. Surely Russian history has shown us that such conduct is tragic and futile. It has also shown that legal farces-such as this case-only diminish Russia's international stature. The case is already receiving international attention. If Samodurov and his co-defendants are imprisoned, that attention will escalate rapidly and widely.
I therefore urge you, as president and thus the guarantor of Russia's constitution, to use your influence to end this travesty of justice. If the charges against Samodurov, Mikhalchuk and Vasilovskaya cannot be dropped, at least the prison sentences and all other punishments demanded by Prosecutor Gudim should be suspended. Finally, the prosecutor's demand that the artworks in question be destroyed should be turned down. Such primitivism, reminiscent of Nazi book-burning, has no place in a Russian court.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Yuri Orlov
Founder and member, Moscow Helsinki Group
Senior Scientist, Cornell University


copies to:

Vladimir Ustinov
Procurator General of the Russian Federation
General Procuracy of the Russian Federation
Ul. B. Dimitrovka 15a
103793 Moscow K-31
Russian Federation
Fax: + 7 095 292 8848 / 921 4186

Olga Aleksandrovna Egorova
Chairperson
Moscow City Court
ul. Bogorodskii val, 8
107076 g. Moskva
Russian Federation

Ambassador Yury Viktorovich Ushakov
Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Ave NW
Washington DC 20007
Fax: 1 202 298 5735
Email: russianembassy@mindspring.com.

Andrei Sakharov Museum and Public Centre
Moscow,
Russian Federation
Fax: + 7 095 917 2653
Email: secretary@sakharov-center.ru