Supreme Court Grants Access to Soviet Repression Victim’s Records

Georgy Shakhet. Photo by Vlad Dokshin / Novaya Gazeta

In a landmark decision, the Russian Supreme Court ruled 5 July 2019 to grant access to the case files of Pavel Zabotin who was shot and killed in 1933 after being sentenced to death without trial by a troika, a Stalinist three judge-panel.

The Supreme Court judgement came as a result of a cassation appeal lodged by Pavel Zabotin’s grandson, Georgy Shakhet. Georgy Shakhet’s lawyers are Memorial Human Rights Centre’s Marina Agaltsova and Team 29’s Anna Fomina. 

Initially, the Russian Interior Ministry had refused to grant Shakhet access to Zabotin’s case files, and over the past two years, a district court in Moscow and the Moscow City Court repeatedly upheld the Ministry’s decision, citing FSB, Interior Ministry and Culture Ministry’s rules. 

The Russian Interior Ministry has invariably denied access to archival files of the victims who were never officially rehabilitated despite the fact that their conviction resulted from the 7 August 1932 ‘law of spikelets’ that led to large-scale political repression. 

At the Supreme Court trial, however, the Interior Ministry’s representative acknowledged the Ministry had misinterpreted access procedure.

The Supreme Court’s judgement sets an important precedent that may prove helpful in subsequent cases where relatives of political repression victims are denied access to archival records.