A false confession under torture: "I’m… an English, French, American, Japanese, Italian, German and maybe some other spy as well…" ("Drawings from the GULAG" by Danzig Baldaev, a former NKVD guard)
The Russian interior ministry wants to revive the troikas Stalin used to conduct the purges in the 1930s nominally to deal with relatively minor crimes but which have the potential for abuse and the intimidation of citizens who are guilty of nothing, according to former investigator Andrey Grivtsov.
The ministry’s proposal, which was issued during the long winter break and thus passed almost unnoticed, Grivtsov says, would allow for trials in front of a panel of three judges within ten days of when someone is charged, thus reducing the opportunities for such individuals to mount a defense.
These troikas, he continues, recall those which existed in 1937-38, which consisted of a representative of the interior ministry of the time, a secretary of an oblast committee of the Communist Party, and a procurator [roughly equivalent to a district attorney in the U.S.], and which sentenced to death more than 300,000 Soviet citizens often without any documentation or presentation of evidence.
“Of course,” Grivtsov says, “no one is talking about a direct return to such troikas and in fact cannot in the 21st century,” but the authorities are moving in that direction and that should be a matter of concern to everyone because such arrangements will make it easier for the authorities to charge and convict and harder for citizens, including innocent ones, to defend themselves.
The interior ministry now says that there is no problem because the troikas will only be used when there is clear evidence of guilt, but it does not say “who will decide that” and consequently does not provide much hope for those who are accused, put in front of the new troikas, and then convicted.
At the very least, Grivtsov argues, this will give the authorities a new way of intimidating Russians who may be afraid to contest whatever officials do lest they be charged with something even worse. Moreover, because officials are judged in terms of statistics about convictions, they will have every reason to boost both the number of people charged and the number found guilty.
And lest anyone think these troikas would be used only for very minor offenses, the former investigator says, people should recognize that these courts would be able to deal with any offense for which the penalty was no greater than five years of incarceration. That includes “the majority” of crimes specified in the Russian criminal code.