Yelena Bonner speaks out in defence of Peter Vins


Yelena Bonner, human rights defender and widow of Andrei Sakharov, has addressed an open letter to President Medvedev in defence of the businessman and former dissident Peter Vins. On 15 December 2009 a court in Moscow issued a warrant for Vins’ arrest on charges of not paying taxes. He has been placed on federal and international wanted lists. Yelena Bonner believes the case to be trumped up and connects it with the fact that Peter Vins established a journalist award named after Andrei Sakharov.

The following are excerpts from her appeal published at

“Consider that I am writing on Sakharov’s behalf since Sakharov for many years defended Peter Vins, his father and mother, wrote about the tragedy of three generations of this family. In his Memoirs, and in his Diaries, there are 25 mentions of members of this family and links to letters written by Sakharov in their defence. Peter’s grandfather (also Peter – Pyotr, in Russian – translator) was twice in the Soviet labour camps, and was shot in 1937. His father was in the labour camps twice, his grandmother and Peter himself, because of his youth, only once. A criminal family? Repeat offenders? No, simply Baptists, supporting its nonconformist wing.

In the 1960s Peter’s grandfather was posthumously rehabilitated. In May 1979 his father, Pastor Georgy Vins was one of five political prisoners exchanged for two Soviet spies. He was expelled from the USSR together with members of his family. During Gorbachev’s rule, Georgy Vins was rehabilitated and had his Soviet citizenship reinstated.

The younger Vins, Peter, studied in Boston and on completing his education went into business. Being an American citizen, he could have done this in any country but he decided he would work in Russia.

His firm soon behave a middle-level successful business, and he approached me, asking for permission to establish the Andrei Sakharov Prize “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience”. He said how much Sakharov had meant to him, and that he wanted in this way to express the gratitude of the entire Vins family for their defence over many years. <>

The award has been functioning since 2001. Each year anthologies are published, including articles by laureates, those nominated and the other most interesting works presented at the competition. The last award was on 12 December last year.

I now regret giving my consent to the establishing of this award. I should have understood that in a country ridden with corruption you will always find people who, relying on the tacit approval of the authorities, will want to crush a profitable business if it’s linked with such an odious name. Unfortunately that is what happened.

In September 2007 Vins’ company Vinland received a visit from 15 people who said they were from the department for fighting economic crimes although they refused to provide proof of their authority to check the company’s economic and financial activities. They beat up the firm’s lawyer who tried to stop them, sealed the safe, took financial documents and computers away, thus paralyzing the firm’s work, effectively destroying it through this predatory attack.

Appeals were lodged against the numerous procedural infringements and Peter Vins approached the media, and addressed an open letter to you in the newspaper “Novaya gazeta”. <>

(The checks etc continued and in August 2009 the criminal file over non-payment of taxes by the company Vinland was changed into a criminal prosecution against Peter Vins.

“I will not deceive you, it was Peter who asked me to approach you. He considers that the Head of State, declaring that “Freedom is better than non-freedom” can also defend freedom. I am less optimistic, and am therefore advising him against returning to Russia so as to not repeat the fate of Magnitsky or many of those gunned down in Moscow and other apartment entrances and on the open squares of our cities.

And the award? Well, there won’t be an Andrei Sakharov Prize “For Journalism as an Act of Conscience” – a shame!  However the life of a person who many years ago protected Sakharov will be protected.

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