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Russian Historian On Trial For Violating Privacy Laws

ARKHANGELSK, Russia -- Plaintiffs at the trial of a Russian historian accused of illegally revealing personal data have given contradictory testimony, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Mikhail Suprun, who studied the life of ethnic Germans in the Soviet Union, was charged with violating Article 137 of the Criminal Code, which forbids encroachment upon a person's private life.

Suprun went on trial in the northwestern city of Arkhangelsk earlier this month. His co-defendant, Aleksandr Dudarev, heads the Interior Ministry department in Arkhangelsk Oblast.

Four years ago, Suprun and Nadezhda Shalygina, a postgraduate student at Arkhangelsk's Pomor University, started a study on the fate of ethnic Germans deported from Crimea and the Volga region during World War II as "enemies of the Soviet people" to so-called "labor armies" in northern Russia.

One of the goals of the study was to identify those who were deported and chronicle the hardships they faced.

By 2009, Suprun and Shalygina had identified some 20 percent of the ethnic Germans who had been deported to the northern Arkhangelsk region.

Germany's Red Cross expressed support for the publication of "The Book of Memory" based on the results of Suprun's research.

But when the local prosecutor's office announced that the relatives of some deported Germans were suing Suprun for revealing personal information about their families, an investigation was opened.

Dudarev's lawyer told RFE/RL today that on October 17 the plaintiffs gave vague and mutually contradictory testimony.

Dudarev said the plaintiffs reminisced about their own experiences and the sufferings of their relatives between the 1940s and 1960s, but when asked precisely what they are accusing the defendants of, they were unable to answer.

"When the judge reminded them that they filed a lawsuit against the defendants, the plaintiffs said Federal Security Service officers had visited them and asked them to write complaints," he said. "Some of the plaintiffs even stated that they never wrote any complaints. When one of the plaintiffs said that, the judge showed him a document signed by him. The plaintiff was very surprised but said: 'Yes, that is my signature, [I suppose] that means I wrote that complaint.'"

Dudarev added that the investigator even insisted that Suprun be charged with revealing state secrets, as documents with detailed information about the activities of Russia's intelligence services were found in his personal archive during the investigation. But the prosecutor's office refused to add that charge to the lawsuit.

The trial is being held behind closed doors.

The so-called Volga Germans were the descendants of Germans who settled in the Russian empire in the late 18th century.

A Volga German Autonomous Republic was established in 1924. But Stalin abolished it in 1941 -- fearing the Volga Germans might collaborate with Nazi Germany -- and had the German population of some 500,000 deported to northern Russia, Siberia, and Kazakhstan. Up to one-third of them are believed to have died en route or in exile.

Read more in Russian here