The Pasko Case to resume on July 11

Publish date: July 10, 2001

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

When the Pasko-case resumes tomorrow, the Court of the Pacific Fleet will face a case that neither has a legal or a factual foundation. The case is also characterised by severe procedural violations.

The trial against journalist Grigory Pasko was supposed to resume on June 4, 2001 at the Court of the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok. The trial has however been postponed several times. This time, however, it is reason to believe that the trial will start on schedule on July 11, although no-one would be surprised if it once more will be postponed.

No legal foundation
Pasko’s co-defender Ivan Pavlov, who was a part of the defence-team that successfully defended Aleksandr Nikitin against similar charges as those Pasko faces, has thoroughly examined the files of the case. His conclusion is that the charges against Pasko have no content.

The charges are based on the evaluation of the experts of the 8th Department of the Russian General Staff, who have based their conclusion on the secret decrees of the Ministry of Defence and not on the officially published legislation on state secrets. Thus, the charges lack a valid legal foundation, and contradict Articles 15 (3) and 54 of the Russian Constitution.

Besides, Pasko is accused of having revealed information related to radioactive safety issues in the Russian Pacific Fleet. The information is related to the condition of the environment and can thus, according to Article 7 of the Federal Law on State Secrets and Article 42 of the Russian Constitution not be classified as state secrets. Besides, the information Pasko is accused of having "collected and revealed" was in all essentials already available in the public domain.

Severe procedural violations
The case against Pasko is also characterised by a number of procedural violations. The investigation has mostly been carried out by persons without authorisation and a number of investigative steps have been taken without the necessary Court orders. Consequently, most of the material that the prosecution refers to as "evidence" is illegally obtained and should be excluded from the case according to the Russian law. Some evidence is even directly falsified. The Vladivostok Court addressed the latter in a separate ruling on July 20, 1999. The charges are however still based on illegally obtained and falsified evidence.

Case based on suppositions and not on facts
The content of the "evidence" against Pasko is absolutely innocent, and mostly based on suppositions and not on facts.

He is for instance charged with having handed over to Japan information on the rescue-operations of spacecrafts that have fallen into the sea. At the illegal search of Pasko’s flat in November 1997, the investigators found 10 pages from the "rescuing manual" for such operations. These pages contain no state secrets, but some of the remaining 190 pages of the manual allegedly do. Since none of these pages were found in Pasko’s flat, the prosecution draw the conclusion that he must have transferred them to Japan. The thought that Pasko never had these pages does not seem to have occurred.

Besides, it is generally unclear why Pasko’s actions are considered as punishable. Most of what the prosecution seems to try to "prove" has little significance for the charges of treason through espionage. Thus, the case also lacks a proper factual foundation.

The system remains the same
It follows from the above-mentioned that Pasko should be acquitted if the Vladivostok Court acts in accordance with Russian law. However, there is no guarantee that this will happen. The Pasko case shows that the system of suppression within the FSB and the Russian procuracy remains more or less intact, despite the acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin.

This system is both able and willing to put the Courts under severe pressure in order to get the convictions that they want. This tendency was clear in the case in against Nikitin, and it also clear in the Pasko-case. In the former case the Courts were able to stand firm against the pressure, but one can not rule out that a Military Court in Vladivostok is a more appreciative subject to pressure than the St. Petersburg City Court was.

Thus, it is important that the surrounding world follows the case against Pasko, as it once followed the case against Nikitin. Without doubt this kind of attention was a major factor in safeguarding Nikitin’s right to a fair trial in accordance with the principles of the rule of law and the Russian Constitution. Probably a similar kind of attention will be needed to safeguard Mr. Pasko’s right to a fair trial.

In short: When the repressive system remains the same, the most effective way to fight it is to do the same as in the Nikitin case. The case against Pasko should therefore be monitored and brought up with Russian authorities and the institutions that are responsible for the judiciary. Such attention will make it easier for the Courts to remain unaffected by any attempts on pressure from the FSB or other state bodies, and also be an important contribution in the confirmation of the legal precedent that the acquittal of Nikitin made way for.

Background – Pasko case
Grigory Pasko was arrested in Vladivostok in November 1997. The FSB accused him of espionage, claiming that he had handed over to the Japanese TV-channel NHK "secret" information on nuclear safety issues in the Pacific Fleet. Amnesty International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience in February 1999 (AI Index EUR 46/07/99). In July 1999, the Court of the Pacific Fleet acquitted him of espionage, but found him guilty of ‘abuse of official authority’. Pasko was sentenced to three years, but released under an amnesty since he had spent 20 months in custody. The Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court cancelled the acquittal on November 21, 2000, and returned the case to the Vladivostok Court, for a new evaluation of the charges of espionage.