The justice minister of the Soviet Union’s largest republic confirmed Monday that at least 50 dissidents have been released recently from Soviet prisons.
Russian Republic Justice Minister Alexander Y. Sukharev said more will be released as the Soviet Union moves to revamp its penal code this year to “humanize” it.
“A group of prisoners sent a request for pardon to the Supreme Soviet and they pledged to follow Soviet laws, so the Supreme Soviet made the step,” Sukharev told reporters at the Vienna follow-up Conference on European Security and Cooperation.
“I cannot give you the names but . . . this process will go on, not only for these people but for other defendants,” he said.
Soviet dissident Andrei D. Sakharov said Sunday he was told by Soviet authorities that at least 43 dissidents have been released under a Feb. 2 decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the national parliament. Dissident sources in Moscow said some of those released had to sign papers vowing not to violate any laws.
Speaking at a news conference, Sukharev also hinted that a law used in the past against dissidents could eventually be reformed.
Asked whether changes would be made to Article 70 of the penal code which covers anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation, Sukharev said, “I’m no prophet . . . but I see no grounds . . . why eventually the article you have mentioned should not be affected.”
Changes have already been made to about 100 articles of the penal code, and amendments are being planned for another 100, leaving about 80 untouched, he reported.
Moscow wanted “to move away from stiff measures to more humane measures without the need for imprisonment,” said Sukharev, who is also president of the Soviet Assn. of Lawyers.
However, he hinted that the changes were not being universally welcomed in the Soviet Union. “Some believe that the stricter the laws are, the better the society. . . . In our society there are also forces which are not very progressive.”
Sukharev’s deputy, Samuil Zivs, told reporters that since the beginning of the year, 500 exit visas have been granted to Soviets with relatives abroad.
“This number is quite significant,” Zivs said. “It is a beginning, it is a trend.” He did not give last year’s figure.
Western reports have said that 98 Jews left the Soviet Union last month. Figures for other groups were not available.