The Soviet authorities now claim that there are no more political prisoners in the country’s camps and prisons: the repression of the past, which was admittedly a tragic situation, has, they say, been totally solved by a program of amnesties, legal reforms and freer debate on past abuses. It is certainly true that in the five years that International PEN has been monitoring the fate of imprisoned writers and journalists around the world, no development has been more dramatic and unexpected than the decrease in the number of imprisoned Soviet writers (from over one hundred at its height to seven at present). However, the seven cases left are still seven cases too many, and their presence on PEN’s books belies the official claim.
In August, in a Reuters report on the visit of two American Congressmen to Perm 35, a labour camp in the north Urals, the Congressmen claimed that at least 11 of the inmates should have their cases reviewed. Conditions in the camp were described as difficult. Prisoners suffered from cold and isolation, visits were infrequent and punishment cells where no bedding was allowed were used. They spoke to 23 of the 38 inmates and amongst those they met