HL Deb 23 July 1987 vol 488 cc1565-71WA
Baroness Gardner of Parkes

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made in the implementation by the USSR and Eastern European countries of the Helsinki Final Act during the last six months.

Lord Glenarthur

During the last six months to 30th June 1987, Soviet and East European implementation of their Helsinki commitments took on special significance in the light of the third CSCE follow-up meeting currently underway in Vienna and the restructuring taking place in the Soviet Union. Overall, compliance with CSCE commitments continued to be unsatisfactory, in particular as regards breaches of the provisions relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms, although the record also continued to vary from country to country.

present. The council's future requirements will be carefully considered in the light of our priorities.

Security in Europe: Principles guiding relations between participating states; confidence-building measures and certain aspects of security and disarmament (Basket I)

Violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms covered by Principle VII, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief continued.

In the Soviet Union, however, the period was marked by a number of positive developments. A significant number of prisoners convicted under the most frequently used "political" articles of the Soviet Penal Code on anti-Soviet legislation and propaganda and anti-Soviet slander where released early under the terms of unpublished decrees. Permission to emigrate was also granted to some former political prisoners, for instance, Dr. Anatoly Koryagin, who had served half his 12-year sentence for his opposition to Soviet abuse of psychiatry; Sergei Khodorovich, who had served four years in labour camp after arranging charity for political prisoners and their families; and former members of the Moscow Helsinki group Tatyana Osipova and her husband Ivan Kovalev. By June the numbers of those released had risen to some 160, although at least 500 more prisoners of conscience were thought to be still serving sentences, including about 180 in mental hospitals.

Those whose sentences were curtailed were not, however, released through an amnesty (in contrast to some of the remaining prisoners of conscience who are expected to be among the beneficiaries of a formal amnesty announced in June in honour of the 70th anniversary of the October Revolution). Most were compelled to sign undertakings and several who refused continued to serve their sentences. Well-known political prisoners not released, including those sentenced to the harshest category of camps ("special regime") like the Estonian Mart Niklus; Viktoras Petkus and Balys Gajauskas of the Lithuanian Helsinki group; and Levko Lukyanenko and Mikhailo Horyn of the Ukrainian Helsinki group. Only a handful of political victims of psychiatric abuse have so far been released.

There was a welcome and steady increase in numbers of Jews allowed to emigrate. However, fears were expressed by many Jewish refuseniks that the new regulations on entering and leaving the Soviet Union which came into force at the beginning of the year would restrict applications to those with only the closest family members abroad, as stipulated. This would render most of those wishing to leave ineligible to apply. The Jewish community also continued to face difficulties in practising its religion and culture and confiscation of religious material from the homes of Soviet Jews, particularly of refuseniks, continued. Most of the best known Jewish prisoners of conscience were released: however the Hebrew teacher Alexei Magarik remained imprisoned.

Arrests of Christian believers diminished in the period under review and a number of Baptists and other religious activists were among those released ahead of term. Humanitarian considerations, however, were not always manifest. One baptist who continues to serve his sentence, for example, is 65 year-old N. Boiko, who is now partly paralysed.

There was increased discussion of religious issues in the Soviet press. The Soviet weekly Literary Gazette revealed in May that the number of registered mosques (365) was far from adequate for the needs of Muslim believers: as a result more than 1,800 unofficial mosques were operating. It was suggested that at least some of these should be legalised. Other articles in the Soviet press took up the complaints of believers against the arbitrariness of local authorities, e.g. in registering places of worship. Side by side with these developments, however, standard calls for a stepping-up of atheist indoctrination and press attacks on individual religious activists continued to be published. The tiny, if growing, Hare Krishna movement in the USSR continued to be a prime target for such attacks. Several of its members, including one of its founders, Anatoly Pinyaev, remained in mental hospitals or imprisoned. His fellow adherent, V. Kustrya, was sentenced in March to a further three years under the terms of a retrograde 1983 law.

Officials in some non-Russian areas (such as Byelorussia and Moldavia) have continued to criticise and resist attempts to promote local languages and cultures against Russian inroads.

Bulgarian implementation of CSCE commitments changed little over the last six months and the positive developments in the Soviet Union did not trigger any similar changes. Bulgarian interest in the CSCE still concentrated on security issues, while Principle VII on respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms was largely flouted. The practice of religion remained difficult for the non-orthodox denominations, with the Muslim faith particularly severely affected and many mosques remaining closed. Restrictions on attendance at Muslim services and festivals and prohibitions on certain Muslim practices continued. The general situation of the Turkish minority in Bulgaria remained profoundly unsatisfactory, with reports suggesting that the Bulgarian authorities had begun dispersing the Turkish population within Bulgaria by moving a number of families into predominantly Slav areas. Speaking Turkish continued to be forbidden, as was listening to Turkish radio broadcasts, with non-compliance resulting in heavy fines.

There was a slight improvement in Czechoslovakia's overall implementation of CSCE provisions, but with regression in some areas. Principle VII continued to be disregarded. The authorities continued to keep a wary eye on religious activists and to hinder the work of the churches. Sentences were pronounced in a number of important political trials during the period. In March, five members of the Jazz Section Committee, arrested in September 1986, were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment (some suspended), supposedly for illegal trading and tax fraud. In May, brothers Pavel and Jiri Wonka were sentenced to 21 and 12 months' imprisonment respectively for "incitement", relating to Pavel Wonka's attempt to stand as a parliamentary candidate. The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted (VONS) continued to be the target of repressive action. The security services persisted in their efforts to prevent contacts between dissidents and Western officials. Despite this, in February my honourable friend, then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Member for Sussex Mid (Mr. Tim Renton) was able to hold meetings with certain Charter 77 signatories and members of the Jazz Section. Three Western journalists were admitted to the Jazz Section trial, and some Western diplomats to other human rights trials, representing a significant, if limited, improvement on past practice.

The GDR's implementation record during the last six months was mixed. The increase in the numbers of those below pensionable age allowed to visit the West seen in 1986 was by and large maintained. But the GDR authorities continued to refuse many applications to visit the West or to emigrate and to create difficulties for citizens seeking information about human rights or Western contacts. Regrettably the GDR's policies have so far prevented the 750th Anniversary of Berlin being an occasion for greater contacts between those living in both parts of the city. The GDR's basic policy of preventing the bulk of the population from travelling to the West and shooting at individuals who try to cross the Berlin Wall and inner-German border was unchanged.

Hungary remained the most open of the Eastern European countries and its record of compliance with CSCE commitments was the best. Church/state relations remained harmonious. Freedom of expression was still restricted, with limited selective action against vocal critics. However, there was a move towards greater openness in the workings of the government, with the appointment of a government spokesman.

The improvement in Poland's human rights record initiated by the clemency law of July 1986 which led to the release of political prisoners in September 1986 was sustained. No further prison sentences for political offences were imposed. Instead the authorities dealt with political offences through the use of heavy fines and confiscation of property. However, trade union pluralism remained illegal and freedom of association seriously circumscribed. There was no change in the freedom allowed to Poles to practise religion, and meetings continued between Church and state within the established framework. In addition the Pope visited Poland in June and made a number of firm statements in support of human rights. In spite of censorship, the level of real press debate remained relatively high.

Romania's poor record on implementation of the Final Act was unrelieved. There was no freedom to express dissenting views and the press continued to be heavily circumscribed. During Mr. Gorbachev's visit to Romania, seven Western journalists were refused admission to the country. Religious freedom continued to be restricted, with non-conforming groups and individuals liable to harassment and arrest. Cultural facilities for national minorities were not freely available. Travel remained difficult for all and contacts with foreigners were discouraged.

Confidence and security-building measures.

Warsaw Pact countries complied fairly strictly with the commitments entered into in September 1986 with the adoption of the Stockholm document. Certain countries even supplied more information than was required by the document. For one combined exercise with Czechoslovakia ("Druzhba '87") the Soviet Union provided notification even though its participation was below the relevant threshold. During the period under review the UK sent observers to four exercises: the Czechoslovak exercise "Zima" from 2nd-6th February; a Polish exercise from 9th-14th March; and two joint GDR/Soviet exercises which took place in the GDR from 23rd-30th March and 10th-16th April.

Co-operation in the Field of Economics, of Science and Technology and of the Environment (Basket II)

There were a number of interesting developments in the Soviet Union in this period, such as the proclaimed reorganisation of the Soviet foreign trade apparatus through the introduciton of a small degree of decentralisation; the adoption of a law allowing joint ventures in the Soviet Union; and the publication of a draft law on the state enterprise allowing for a greater degree of self-financing and self-administration at the factory level. A new UK-Soviet Chamber of Commerce opened in Moscow in March. But in general there was virtually no improvement in the conditions for Western businessmen in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Day-to-day annoyances, such as inadequate and expensive housing and the lack of sufficient telephone and telecommunications installations, persisted. There was no discernible improvement in the provision of economic and commercial data, and the lack of reliable statistical information continued to hinder business analyses. There was a growing awareness in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe of the importance of environmental issues. In the Soviet Union in particular this resulted in a number of concrete measures such as the abandonment of plans to reverse the flow of the Siberian rivers and the conversion or closure of polluting factories. However, much remains to be done.

Co-operation in Humanitarian and other Fields (Basket III)

During the last six months there was a considerable increase in travel between Eastern countries, as well as easier availability of visas for visits to relatives in the West in most cases—most notably in the GDR. The publication of new Soviet emigration regulations in January also clarified the position for Soviet citizens wanting to travel abroad, particularly in family reunification cases, although there was much criticism of the content from would-be emigrants. Arbitrary decisions continued to be made and difficult cases usually remained unresolved, including those where the Soviet authorities continued, dubiously, to allege state security as grounds for refusal. In Czechoslovakia, family visits in either direction remained unsatisfactory. Romania continued to discourage contacts with foreigners, with marriage applications inordinately delayed. Restrictions remained in force in nearly all Warsaw Pact countries on individuals wishing to visit the West, as well as on access to Western diplomatic missions. In Bulgaria there was ample evidence that those who entered Western missions or had contact with Western diplomats suffered as a consequence.

Developments in Mr. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost led to increasing amounts of information coming from Moscow. There were more press conferences and improvements in the quality of press, radio and television reporting, including uncensored TV interviews with senior Western spokesmen (such as with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in March) and the publication of articles by Western statesmen and journalists, generally accompanied by critical Soviet commentaries. On the whole, however, the work of the media remained under close supervision and Western non-communist publications continued to be virtually unobtainable. Jamming of the BBC Russian service and Voice of America ceased; but it continued in other cases, for example, BBC Polish service broadcasts on short wave. In early June East German police brutally beat up West German journalists who had been seeking to observe incidents in East Berlin in which the police had prevented crowds of young people from gathering near the wall to listen to pop concerts taking place on the Western side.

Co-operation and Exchanges in the Field of Culture and Education

Many Eastern European countries expressed a renewed desire for closer cultural co-operation. Routine exchanges were generally satisfactory, impeded only by occasional bureaucratic constraints. There was much evidence of a loosening up of exchanges with Hungary outside the rigid quotas of the cultural exchanges programme and the period was marked by the signing in March by my right honourable and learned friend during his visit to Budapest of an agreement on co-operation in the fields of education, culture, science and technology.

A UK-Soviet memorandum of understanding concerning new directions in co-operation in the fields of information, culture and education was also signed in March, during the visit of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to the Soviet Union, reflecting the interest in both countries in increasing the volume and variety of cultural exchanges, and opening doors to increased cultural exchange outside the confines of the biennial agreement on relations in the scientific educational and cultural fields. While primarily a facilitating document, this also contained a number of specific commitments to which the Soviet Union had not previously subscribed in documents of this kind. Although Soviet insistence on strict reciprocity was a continuing difficulty, the period as a whole saw the development of encouraging and positive trends in these areas.