The great Vladimir Bukovsky is on a hunger strike. Here’s why.
If a tree falls in the forest — no, if a legendary Soviet dissident goes on a hunger strike, and there is no media there to report on it, will it ever crash into world consciousness?
Not so far. I find myself in some numbing degree of disbelief at the general silence over the fact that Vladimir Bukovsky is now 20 days into a hunger strike — his impasse with the British justice system becoming a life and death struggle in a frighteningly literal sense — amid scant news coverage and even less discernible sense of public urgency. Thank goodness for Claire Berlinski’s powerfully human cri de commentary that came out today at Ricochet.
When Bukovsky, 72, who lives in Cambridge, UK, began his hunger strike on April 20, there was an initial flurry in the British press. It tapered off, and especially after the draconian measure taken on May 3 by the British High Court. The court went to the unusual and unusually totalitarian length of imposing a “reporting ban” on recent developments in Bukovsky’s libel suit against the Crown Prosecution Service, as explained here.
Another greatly disturbing development is that should Bukovsky be medically unfit for his separate criminal trial on May 16, the court has reportedly threatened to try him in absentia.
What is going on?
It all started on April 27, 2015, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced in an unusual manner — no, a unique manner, as I will show below — that it would be prosecuting Bukovsky for “making” and “possessing” child pornography, five charges each, plus one charge of possessing a “forbidden image.”
I have to pause for a moment to ask, incredulously: Is there a sentient person, naturally revolted by the thought of child pornography, even five or six images’ worth, going to believe for one minute that the British state, for decades having turned the blindest and hardest and most craven of eyes against the sexual despoilment and prostitution of generations of little British girls at risk at the hands of criminal Islamic “grooming” gangs, has suddenly developed some compelling interest in protecting the welfare of children, and thus turned its avenging sword on … Vladimir Bukovsky? The context, at least, is all wrong from the get-go.
Is it possible that this all really started on March 17, 2015, the day Bukovsky, the greatest enemy of the old Kremlin extant, testified in the inquiry into the 2006 assassination of Putin-era defector Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned by polonium, probably at the behest of Vladimir Putin? Or did it start on whatever day it was that British prosecutors determined it was in the public interest to investigate Bukovsky — or perhaps on the day before that?
We don’t know the answers to such questions; but asking them, thinking about them, is incumbent upon us. They take us to the larger and ghoulish dimension in which these legal machinations are playing out, and which Berlinski highlights in her essay. When these charges were first brought against Bukovsky in April 2015, she writes, Bukovsky couldn’t attend the initial hearing due to illness. She explains: “He was having complex heart surgery, after which he was in a medically-induced coma and hospitalized for four months. He survived, but was not expected to do so at the time.”
So the point of the exercise wasn’t just to shut him up. He would soon be dead anyway. The point was to nullify his life, It was to prove to him, and to anyone tempted to emulate him, that the Kremlin will punish you for defying it even after your death. It will turn you, in the eyes of the world and of history, into a child molester. These charges, even if he is acquitted, as he expects to be, would tarnish any man with an ineradicable stain. No one will believe there could be that kind of smoke without fire. They call into doubt Bukovsky’s entire life, testimony, and legacy. He is all too aware of this.
As Bukovsky told the Guardian last month:
Frankly, I don’t care about the risk of being sent to prison. I have already spent 12 years in Soviet prisons having committed no crime in my life. I don’t expect to live for very long, and it makes little difference to me whether I spend the final few weeks of my life in jail. However, what is fundamentally important to me defending my reputation.
Throughout the 72 years of my life, my moral reputation had been spotless. It has been ruined in one day by the worldwide publicity given to the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] allegations.
I went back to the website of the Crown Prosecution Service to see where, one day, this story began, publicly, at any rate.
There are nearly 100 listings currently on the webpage for the News Centre of the British Crown Prosecution Service for East of England — Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, and Cambridgeshire.
Dating from January 2012 until the present, almost every single one of these nearly 100 press releases pertains to criminal cases that are over and done with; that is, cases that have already gone to court or been otherwise settled.
For example: “Teenager convicted of two murders in Colchester”; “Couple guilty of road rage acid attack”; “Polish lorry drivers sentenced for immigration offenses”; “Teenager given caution following motorcycle incident last year”; and, “Three sentenced for burglaries across five counties.”
But then there is the listing from April 27, 2015: “Vladimir Bukovsky to be prosecuted over indecent images of children.”
To be prosecuted? Amid the shocking admixture of “Vladimir Bukovsky,” co-founder of the Soviet dissident movement, and “indecent images of children,” there is something odd, and uniquely so, about the headline: specifically, the words, “to be prosecuted.” There is no other such announcement of “to be prosecuted” anywhere else on the list.
A small thing — perhaps. But it stands out on contemplating Bukovsky’s libel suit in which he accuses the CPS of, as the Guardian reported, “‘falsely and maliciously’ damaging his reputation and of abusing its powers.”
It is also true that among these nearly 100 CPS listings there is a handful that have not come to trial or been otherwise concluded. But a different tack is evident in each one. In these half a dozen or so cases, the press release announces that the CPS “authorizes charges,” or, more commonly, “advises charges” (as well it might, particularly in cases involving dead bodies, even a headless, limbless torso). Am I right to see in the CPS announcement that Bukovsky is “to be prosecuted” something that is missing in the diffidence of “the CPS advises charges…”? Does this slight tonal shading between Bukovsky’s and these other cases mean anything?
I don’t know. But given Bukovsky’s gigantic and unblemished renown for courage and conscience, forged in 12 years as a political prisoner of the Soviet dictatorship, it beggars belief to think that the announcement to press and public of these damaging, darkening charges, not proven, would just slip into view heedlessly, without the text being duly vetted. Bukovsky is a public person; the public has a right to know. But where did the routine aspect evident in the other press releases go?
The libel suit Bukovsky filed against the CPS last August following his heart surgery does not simply duplicate the charges of the CPS criminal case against him and call them defamatory, which would be nonsensical. According to published reports, the libel suit targets the specific charge in the press release noted above that claims Bukovsky engaged in “making” pornography. This, Bukovsky argues, implies his presence and even participation in a scene of child sexual abuse. No such charge of “making,” as in creating, pornography is among those he will actually face in his criminal trial of May 16 (and to which he pleads not guilty). Hence, the claim of defamation, which he has sought to resolve in his libel suit against the CPS before facing the CPS’s criminal charges.
The High Court said no — and then imposed the gag order on its having said no, and all the rest, apparently convinced that these developments in Bukovsky’s libel proceedings against the Crown Prosecution Service would be prejudicial to the Crown Prosecution Service’s criminal case against Bukovsky.
Another question to ponder: Are we now peeking through a court-ordered blindfold at justice, transparent and impartial, or something else?