HC Deb 03 July 1986 vol 100 cc640-4W
Mr. Murphy

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what progress has been made in the implementation by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Eastern European countries of the provisions of the Helsinki final act during the last six months.

Mr. Renton

During the six-month period to 30 June 1986 no significant improvements were recorded in the implementation of the Helsinki final act and the Madrid concluding document, although the pattern varied from country to country. Overall, the level of compliance continues to reflect the Warsaw pact countries' selective interpretation of the CSCE final act. There have again been widespread breaches of the provisions relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, most notably in the Soviet Union.

Security in Europe: Principles Guiding Relations Between Participating States; Confidence-Building Measures and Certain Aspects of Security and Disarmament (Basket I) The most striking feature of Eastern performance over the period was the continued violation of principle VII which covers respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief.

Notwithstanding the isolated instance of Anatoly Shcharansky's release, the Soviet Union continued its repression of religious groups, dissidents and ethnic minorities without abatement. Neither was there any evidence of impending change for the better in Soviet policy on human rights.

The Jewish community continued to face difficulties over emigration and in practising its religion and culture. Confiscation of religious material from the homes of Soviet Jews, particularly of refuseniks, was widespread and the pressures on the teaching of Hebrew maintained. In June, the Moscow Hebrew teacher Alexsei Magarik was given the maximum sentence (three years) for alleged drugs possession: more generally, the practice of accusing dissidents of drug possession appears to be growing. Many other Jewish activists such as Vladimir Lifshitz faced harassment and arrest on charges of "anti-Soviet slander".

Other religious groups also suffered persecution. Soviet law requires any such group to register with the authorities. Believers, therefore, face a choice between participating in a group controlled and closely monitored by the authorities or breaking the law by refusing to be registered. Soviet laws are aimed at ensuring that religious groups play no part in the wider community except when called upon to support official policies or deny reports of persecution. Assertion of religious and cultural identity has led to the arrest of Jews, Ukrainians, Pentecostal Christians, Baptists and others during the period under review. Russian Orthodox Deacon Vladimir Rusak was arrested in March and charged with "anti-Soviet propaganda". Groups such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Uniate Catholic Church remain prescribed organisations. The Soviet authorities continued to exert steady pressure to encourage Muslim inhabitants of central Asia and Azerbaijan to abandon their religion. Very few mosques in these regions are open for use and there are few officially recognised clergy.

Members of the group to establish trust between the USSR and USA continued to be subject to considerable official harassment. Human rights activists continued to attract persecution. In March Kirill Popov was sentenced to six years in the camps and five in internal exile for anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, while in May Sergei Khodorovich, who had been sentenced to three years in 1983 for channelling charitable funds to political prisoners and their families, received a further sentence of three years. Details of the ill treatment and poor health of the poetess Irina Ratushinskaya (serving a 12-year sentence) became known, as did information on the fate of the unofficial trade union leader Vladimir Klebanov after a silence lasting several years: he has reportedly been a patient in the Tashkont special psychiatric hospital since 1983. Apart from the release of Anatoly Shcharansky and emigration permission granted to a few well-known refuseniks, such as Boris Gulko and his wife and the Goldstein brothers from Tbilisi, few improvements took place in the position of other better known individual cases, although Mrs. Yelena Bonner's journey to the West for medical treatment was a welcome development. Dr. Sakharov, however, remained in internal exile in Gorky, the subject of films secretly made by the KGB. Psychiatrist Dr. Anatoly Koryagin was reportedly sentenced during 1985 to a further two-year term for resisting force feeding during a hunger strike. There was continuing evidence of the abuse of psychiatry in suppressing dissent, a practice which Dr. Koryagin helped to expose.

Bulgarian implementation of CSCE commitments remained poor. When criticised for human rights violations, Bulgaria repeatedly invoked principles 1 (sovereignty) and VI (non-interference in internal affairs) whilst commitments under principle VII were virtually ignored. The practice of religion, in particular that of Islam, remained difficult with many mosques sealed and locked. Unregistered Pentecostal churches faced a new wave of persecution. The Bulgarian authorities continued to exert a total control over all other religious communities and to limit their rights to practice. The forced Bulgarisation of the Turkish minority is a particularly striking example of the dismal Bulgarian human rights performance.

In Czechoslovakia, the approach to human rights has not improved over the last six months, with continued reports of persecution of religious activists. There has been no visible improvement in Czechoslovakia's performance in the dissemination of information, which falls under rigid state control. The right to know and act upon rights was similarly restricted, with continued pressure on human rights' groups such as Charter 77.

In spite of the improvements which have taken place since 1975, East Germany's implementation balance still showed a considerable deficit. Restrictions on human rights and individual freedoms remained a central problem. There was little or no relaxation in the restrictions on freedom of movement. The GDR attitude towards the Church remained rather more forthcoming than in most other East European countries, although Christians continued to face problems and discrimination, particularly in the field of education. There was evidence of a more extensive and positive treatment of GDR churches in the official press.

Overall, Hungarian compliance with CSCE principles improved during the six months, and remained comparatively good in comparison with other East European states. Relations between churches and the state remained settled. However, freedom of expression was limited and selective action was still taken against internal opposition.

In Poland there were fewer new repressive measures than in the period May to December 1985, but there was no overall relaxation. The number of political prisoners increased to over 250. The leader of underground Solidarity in Warsaw, Zbigniew Bujak, was arrested in May and further arrests have followed. The harsh sentences imposed on three prominent Solidarity prisoners were modified only slightly on appeal, but the case against Lech Walesa was dropped on the first day of his trial. Religious freedom and freedom of travel abroad remained greater than in other Eastern European countries and, in spite of general censorship, the level of genuine debate in the press was relatively high.

The human rights situation in Romania remained abysmal. Basic rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of assembly were ruthlessly denied. The Department of Religious Affairs retained a firm grip on the direction of church policy. Members of religious groups who did not keep within the strict limits prescribed by the laws of 1948 and 1950 were liable to harassment and even imprisonment.

Confidence and security-building measures

The Soviet Union provided notification of one major military manoeuvre involving approximately 250,000 personnel which took place from 10 to 17 February. Observers were not invited. There was no evidence of other manoeuvres involving more than 25,000 troops in Warsaw pact countries and there were no notifications of manoeuvres below that level.

Co-operation in the field of economics, of science and technology and of the environment (basket II)

In general, the procedures for conducting business in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe remained unchanged with Western business men confronted by considerable obstacles of a purely practical nature. Poor economic and trade performance in some countries, coupled with a general tendency to secrecy, have resulted in an unwillingness to publish information and statistical data. However, in Poland and Hungary new laws designed to facilitate foreign involvement in joint ventures have been enacted, and the position may be easing slightly in the Soviet Union and other countries. Joint commissions on economic, scientific and technical co-operation were held in the first half of 1986 with the USSR, Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary. They took place in a helpful and positive atmosphere. Similar exchanges with other East European countries are scheduled for later this year.

Co-operation in humanitarian and other fields (basket III)

Most East European countries continued to show a largely negative record in the fields of family visits, family reunification and contacts with individuals from states outside the Warsaw pact. Hungary and Poland were notable exceptions. Overall, emigration to the West continued at a low level. In the Soviet Union the number of exit visa permits granted to ethnic Germans in 1985 reached the lowest level since 1970; the number of Soviet Jews who emigrated during the review period was marginally higher than the figure for the preceding six months, but the figures still fell a long way short of the high levels of emigration observed a few years ago. The Soviet authorities continued to claim that virtually all Jews wishing to leave have already done so. The GDR continued to limit severely travel by its citizens to non-Communist countries—only a small fraction of those wishing to leave the GDR were allowed to do so. With very few exceptions restrictions remained in force in all Warsaw pact countries on individuals wishing to visit the West, as well as on access to Western diplomatic missions. In the field of information, restrictions on access to Western sources of information continued. So too did interference with Western broadcasts, especially by the Soviet Union which consistently jams BBC Russian and Polish service broadcasts on shortwave. The lack of progress on Anglo-Soviet bilateral cases in the margins of the Berne experts' meeting on human contacts, which took place in April and May, was disappointing.

Co-operation and exchanges in the field of culture and education

Bureaucratic and economic constraints were the main impediments to active bilateral relations. On the whole, existing agreements and projects were implemented in a satisfactory manner.