Extremely distressing news from the Guardian by Luke Harding about the great Vladimir Bukovsky (above):
The Russian dissident Vladimir Bukovsky has been on hunger strike at his home in Cambridge for more than a week in protest at what he calls the “Kafkaesque” British judicial system.
Bukovsky was charged last year with child pornography offences. He strenuously denies the allegations. In August he took the unusual step of suing the Crown Prosecution Service for libel: he is seeking £100,000 in damages and claims the CPS has “falsely and maliciously” hurt his reputation.
Jenny Hopkins, the CPS’s chief crown prosecutor for the east of England, said in April 2015: “Following an investigation by Cambridgeshire police, we have concluded that there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to prosecute Vladimir Bukovsky.”
The dissident was a close friend of Alexander Litvinenko. The pornography was allegedly discovered on Bukovsky’s laptop shortly before he was due to testify in a public inquiry into Litvinenko’s murder in London in 2006. Two Kremlin agents, Dmitry Kovtun and Andrei Lugovoi, poisoned the former Russian spy in a Mayfair hotel with a cup of polonium tea.
Bukovsky told the inquiry he was “pretty sure” the Kremlin was behind Litvinenko’s death. The inquiry chairman, Sir Robert Owen, agreed, ruling in January that the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, had “probably approved” the polonium plot in London.
Bukovsky’s friends in the UK and Russia say he has been set up. They say his outspoken criticism of Putin made him an obvious target for sophisticated Kremlin hackers to plant the pornography and suggest Russia then “tipped off” the British police using Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency.
Speaking at his home in Cambridge, Bukovsky said: “I’m on hunger strike not because of trying to prove anything to the FSB [Russia’s security agency]. We’ve known each other for half a century. There’s nothing new they can tell me or I can tell them. I’m doing it for the British public.”
At the site of the Guardian story, there is a video clip from which this preceding quotation comes. More completely, Bukovsky says:
The KGB didn't change at all. It's the same KGB, it's only renamed. They all came from the old KGB, the teachings, the education, so on and so forth. I happen to be their enemy for 57 years. Very simply, I am on a hunger strike not because of trying to prove anything to the FSB [Russia’s security agency]. I don't need to prove anything to FSB. We’ve known each other for half a century. There’s nothing new they can tell me or I can tell them. I’m doing it for the British public. I don't want them to have Soviet Union here.
The Guardian story continues:
Bukovsky wants his libel action against the CPS to be heard before the criminal case begins. He is due to go on trial in May, with his libel case pencilled in for the summer following three postponements. “I’m denied justice, quite openly and blatantly,” he said.
The sequence will allow Russia’s state media to gleefully repeat the criminal allegations, he said, while ignoring the verdict should he be acquitted. Bukovsky faces five charges of making indecent images of children, five of possessing indecent images of children, and one of possessing a prohibited image.
More than 150 former Soviet political prisoners, their relatives and descendants have signed a petition to "Save Vladimir Bukovsky," which will be delivered to the Departmental Ministry of Justice in London. Please consider signing it here.
Now aged 73, Bukovsky has been in poor health. He nearly died last year and spent four months in hospital in Germany. He began his hunger strike on 20 April.
“At the moment I feel nothing. I’m OK. The feeling of hunger slowly dies,” he said. “Sometime next week I will not feel hunger at all.” Bukovsky’s last hunger strike was four decades ago, in the Soviet Union and the Brezhnev era, during an implacable struggle against the KGB.
Over the last 10 days, supporters from around the world have urged him to abandon his hunger strike, arguing it will have little influence on a British court. Some of them have visited him at his crumbling house on the outskirts of Cambridge where he has lived since just after his expulsion from the Soviet Union in 1976.
Bukovsky’s phone now rings constantly. A Russian documentary film crew turned up this week and filmed him in his living room. He has received hundreds of emails. An online petition has been launched and more than 150 former Soviet political prisoners and their descendants have signed a letter of support, describing Bukovsky as “a man of gigantic moral stature”.
“Successive Russian governments, including doubtless this one have wanted you dead,” his publisher, David Campbell, wrote in an email. “Why are you risking your life ... and thus giving the Kremlin this satisfaction?”
Bukovsky, however, is unmoved. He said he was not in any hurry to die but was prepared to do so if his demand for justice wasn’t met.
“Most of my friends have been in jail at some point and on hunger strike. They treat it normally, without any undue emotional reactions,” he said. He was refusing food but drinking “plain tea” and mineral water.
After a while you slip into some kind of euphoria. It’s an incredible, marvellous feeling. You’re flying over the world. Imagination works perfectly. The brain is like a Swiss clock. Apparently the digestive function takes too much of blood and oxygen from our brain. Once you stop it, the brain works better than it did. It also improves your sleep pattern. I suffer from insomnia. I remember from hunger strike you usually sleep beautifully.”
Of death, he said: “I’m not afraid of it. How can you be afraid of something inevitable? It isn’t a senseless death. It’s a purposeful death. I’m an old man anyway.”
Bukovsky began his protest against Soviet power in the early 1960s. He was jailed without trial in 1963 and spent the next 12 years in a series of prisons, labour camps and psychiatric hospitals. During this period he went on hunger strike 2o times; frequently the authorities caved in. He exposed to the west the Soviet use of psychiatric treatment against political prisoners.
In a prison in the city of Perm, he said, all of the inmates refused food in protest at inadequate medical facilities. Bukovsky said he held out for 30 days. Conditions in the camp improved.
In 1971, he said, when he was incarcerated at the KGB’s Lefortovo prison in Moscow, staff brutally force-fed him through the nose. “It was incredibly painful.”
Bukovsky said he did not take credit for the end of the Soviet Union, but he was proud of his role in “delegitimising” communism and in freeing eastern Europe from Soviet rule. In exile, Bukovsky briefed Margaret Thatcher ahead of her first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev. In 2008, he tried to stand in Russia’s presidential election but the Kremlin disqualified him.
Of Putin, he said: “I think he’s evil.” And asked when a democratic Russia might emerge, he said: “That would be not very soon.”