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Western Observers See a Positive Human Rights Step : Soviets to Shun Anonymous Complaints

February 04, 1988|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — After generations of tragic experience under czars and commissars, the Soviet Union has decided to bar the police and other official bodies from conducting investigations on the basis of anonymous complaints.

The Communist Party daily Pravda reported Wednesday that the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet has decreed a halt to the practice, effective immediately.

In the future, according to the decree, a citizen's complaint must be signed and must include the signer's full name and address--home and workplace.

Any complaint "lacking this data shall be deemed anonymous and not be subject for consideration," the decree says.

If this policy is adhered to strictly, Western observers said, it would be a major step forward in an area of human rights that affects millions of Soviet citizens.

Countless innocent victims have been sent to prison or marched before a firing squad in the Soviet Union on the word of some faceless accuser. Yet the law has continued to require the police to investigate anonymous charges, and this has given unscrupulous and ambitious individuals a powerful weapon to use against their enemies or rivals.

The police, acting on the theory that where there is smoke there must be fire, often required the targets of such charges to prove their innocence rather than require the accusers to furnish proof of guilt.

It was this kind of thinking, more than likely, that gave rise to the cynical saying: "Never drink with two other people. You won't know who the informer was."

In recent years, an anonymous accusation rarely led to a criminal charge, Soviet sources said, but it could affect a person's chances of traveling abroad and influence decisions concerning his work or his personal life.

According to a Muscovite who asked not to be named, a policeman questioning a person who has been accused anonymously will customarily say he has received a "signal" about him.

"Now," he said, "I have a right to ask who sent that signal before I have to answer."

Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev's advocacy of greater "democratization" was no doubt responsible, at least in part, for Wednesday's decree.

Krokodil, the satirical magazine, said there was a time when anonymous accusations were regarded as useful tools for preserving ideological purity. But the attitude toward anonymous informers has changed, the magazine said, adding: "One simply cannot be an ideological stalwart and a foul caricature of a man at the same time."

Ceremonial Burning

Krokodil said that its staff would no longer read unsigned letters. The latest issue of the magazine reported that 138 anonymous complaints had been ceremoniously burned to underscore its new policy.

Another sign of the new attitude is a satirical movie cartoon that is being shown this week in Moscow movie houses. It depicts a jealous worker making his boss' life miserable by writing false accusations in an anonymous letter.

As police inspectors appear menacingly to check out the charges, the boss becomes increasingly upset, then suffers a heart attack and dies.

At his funeral he is hailed as a good man. A wreath bears a poignant reminder of his torment: "Charges Not Proven."

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