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The Moscow Helsinki Group is the oldest Russian human rights organization active in Russia today. It was established in 1976 in Moscow. Its initiator and first leader was the famous physicist and corresponding member of the Armenian SSR Academy of Sciences, Professor Yuri Fyodorovich Orlov.
Moscow Helsinki Group (Public Group to Assist the Implementation of the Helsinki Accords in the USSR, Moscow Group "Helsinki")
On 1 August 1975, the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held in Helsinki, came to an end. Heads of all the European countries (excluding Albania), the USSR, the USA and Canada took part in the Conference. The Soviet governing body, having signed the Final Act of this conference, assumed the obligation to uphold international standards on human rights. Moscow human rights activists Yuri Orlov, Andrei Amalrik, Valentin Turchin and Anatoly (Nathan) Scharansky conceived the idea of establishing independent non-governmental public associations designed to control implementation of the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Accords. On 12 May 1976 at a press conference held in the apartment of academician Andrei Sakharov, Yuri Orlov announced the establishment of the Moscow Helsinki Group. The founding members of the group were: Ludmilla Alexeeva, Mikhail Bernshtam (he was an MHG member for two months), Elena Bonner, Alexander Ginzburg, Peotr Grigorenko, Alexander Korchak, Malva Landa, Anatoly Marchenko, Vitaly Rubin and Anatoly Scharansky.
The MHG began accepting information from USSR citizens on violations of the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Accords. This information was the basis for the MHG’s documents, which the MHG delivered to the public and the governments of the 35 signatories of the Helsinki Accords. The MHG documents contained concrete cases of violations by the Soviet authorities of their obligations with respect to equal rights of nationalities; freedom to choose one’s place of residence; freedom to leave one’s country and return; freedom of conscience; rights of political prisoners; people’s right to have contacts with one another; the right to a fair trial; and social-economic rights. These documents were signed by the MHG members who participated in preparing them, and also by fellow members who agreed with the documents’ content. All MHG documents were mailed to the registry of the Supreme Soviet Presidium of the USSR and to the Moscow embassies of the signatories of the Helsinki Accords, as well as handed to foreign reporters at press conferences. MHG members traveled across the country to gather local information on violations of the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Accords. The Group issued 195 informational documents and several reviews. Several reports and appeals were produced jointly with other human rights organizations.
On the pattern of the MHG, similar groups in Ukraine, Lithuania, Georgia and Armenia were established in 1976-77. In January 1977, on the initiative of Peotr Grigorenko, the Working Committee to Investigate the Use of Psychiatry for Political Purposes was created in association with the MHG.
Within days of the creation of the MHG, the Soviet press began a campaign of threats and libel against it. This was a well-planned campaign aimed at liquidating the Helsinki movement in the USSR, approved by the top Party leadership. Arrests of members of the MHG and other Helsinki groups began in February 1977. In Moscow, Yuri Orlov and Alexander Ginzburg were arrested, then Anatoly Scharansky and Malva Landa. MHG members were subjected to pressure to stop participating in the work of the group, and to emigrate. In 1976 Vitaly Rubin emigrated, and in 1977 Ludmilla Alexeeva and Peotr Grigorenko. Ludmilla Alexeeva represented the MHG abroad. But the Group in Moscow continued to work. New members joined: Vladimir Slepak, Yuri Mnukh, Naum Meiman, Tatiana Osipova, Ivan Kovalev, Viktor Nekipelov, Sophia Kallistratova, Yuri Yarim-Ageev, Leonid Ternovsky, Felix Serebrov. Malva Landa return to working in the group after exile, but in 1980 was subjected to new repressions. According to the verdicts of Soviet courts, MHG members were sentenced to a total of 60 years in the Gulag and 40 years in exile. By the end of 1981, only three MHG members remained free: Elena Bonner, Sophia Kallistratova and Naum Meiman. In September 1982, after a criminal case was opened against Sophia Kallistratova and she was threatened with imprisonment, the group’s dissolution was announced.
From the very start, the Moscow Helsinki Group attracted the sympathy of Soviet citizens, who recognized their lack of rights, and was the subject of great interest in the world community. Reports about the MHG’s activities and repressions against its members were at the center of attention of western media, especially radio stations broadcasting to the territory of the Soviet Union. In 1978 the United States Senate nominated arrested MHG members for the Nobel Peace Prize; the question of their fate was regularly raised by political and public figures of democratic countries during meetings with USSR leaders. Establishment of the MHG initiated the international Helsinki movement, which now consists of 37 human rights organization in the 37 countries signatory to the Helsinki Accords. These organizations were joined from 1982-2007 into the International Federation on Human Rights (founded in Bellagio, Italy).
On 28 July 1989, human rights defenders Larisa Bogoraz, Sergei Kovalev, Viatcheslav Bakhmin, Alexei Smirnov, Lev Timofeev and Boris Zolotuchin announced the reestablishment of the Moscow Helsinki Group. Yuri Orlov, Ludmilla Alexeeva and Kronid Lubarsky joined them. Its chair was Larisa Bogoraz, followed in 1994 by Kronid Lubarsky. In May 1996, Ludmilla Alexeeva (who returned from emigration in 1993) became its head. In November, 1998 she was also elected President of the International Helsinki Federation.
In accordance with a statute approved in 1993, the Moscow Helsinki Group is a non-governmental organization. Its purpose is assisting the practical implementation of the humanitarian articles of the Helsinki Accords.
Since July 1996, the MHG has published an informational bulletin distributed free of charge to regional human rights organizations.
Ernst Ametistov, Galina Starovoitova and Kristopher Goetterud now deceased, were members of MHG. MHG’s current members are: Valery Abramkin, Valery Borschev, Dina Kaminskaya, Sergey Kovalev, Yuri Orlov, Boris Pinsker, Henry Reznik, Lev Ponomarev, Gleb Yakunin, Boris Altshuler, Iosif Dyadkin, Evgeny Zakharov, Inna Zakharova, Viktoria Malikova, Karinna Moskalenko, Mara Polyakova, Sergey Sorokin, Georgy Edeltshtein, Sergey Pashin, Aleksey Simonov, Alexander Petrov, Leonard Ternovsky and Viatcheslav Bakhmin.