No pardon plea to Putin

Publish date: January 21, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

Journalist Grigory Pasko, whose bogus treason conviction has created considerable international protest, will not request President Vladimir Putin for pardon.

At a one-day visit to France last week President Vladimir Putin offered Pasko to submit a request for pardon so that he could consider it. Pasko has however, rejected Putin’s offer and thus, according to the January 16 edition of "ruined the President’s plan".

Fighting for acquittal
– To ask pardon would mean to admit guilt and agree with the verdict, but I am not guilty and will continue the struggle for my honest name and a full acquittal, Pasko said in a statement from the prison cell, released through his lawyer Anatoly Pyshkin.

The imprisoned journalist did however, thank Putin for saying that he would consider an appeal for pardon. – I thank everyone who believes in my innocence, including Putin and Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the upper house of the Russian parliament, who has called the conviction unfair, for their encouraging words, Pasko said.

The Court of the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok sentenced Pasko to four years in prison on Christmas Day 2001, for attending a meeting of the Pacific Fleet on September 11, 1997 and possessing the notes he made there. The Court ruled that Pasko could have passed the notes containing an analysis of naval maneuvers carried out in August-September 1997 to the Japanese journalist Tadashi Okano, with whom he had worked.

Pasko maintains that the navy prosecuted him in retaliation for his reports uncovering alleged environmental abuses. Amnesty International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience on January 7, 2002, saying that the prosecution of Pasko seems "motivated by political reprisal for exposing the practice of dumping nuclear waste". Influential media watchdogs have warned that the conviction could threaten free speech in Russia.

Strained relations
The Pasko-case has strained relations with Russia and the West, although Putin, when responding to French President Jacques Chirac in Paris last week, insisted he had no authority over the Court’s decision.

According to the RIA Novosti news agency, the Russian Foreign Ministry submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow a protest note about two American diplomats who attended a public rally in Vladivostok in support of Pasko on January 10. Quoting sources close to Russian diplomatic circles, RIA Novosti reports that the note denotes the actions of the diplomats as "a serious violation of generally accepted international norms, which can result in the use of relevant sanctions against those responsible."

The US Consulate General in Vladivostok, in its turn, has stated that the US Consul General, James Shumaker, and his colleague Alexander Hamilton, were "observers" and did not participate in the rally in support of Pasko.

Participants in the rally picketed the buildings of the Maritime Territorial Department of the Russian Federal Security Service, the Court of the Russian Pacific Fleet and the Military Prosecutor’s office in Vladivostok.

Improved conditions
Pasko’s defence team has spent the last week going through the protocol of the trial, and believes that the verdict may well be overturned by the Military Supreme Court. Pasko, who also spent 20 months in custody from his arrest in November 1997 to July 1999, has however, started to serve his time in prison.

He spent the first winter weeks in a cell without a windowpane while Vladivostok experienced its worst snowstorm since 1959 with temperatures hovering at 15 below zero, told Pyshkin. – Inside the cell it was as cold as outside.

Russian prisons do not usually have windowpanes, to allow more fresh air into overcrowded cells and to avoid use of broken glass as weapons, Pyshkin added. The prison administration has however, recently installed a pane into Pasko’s four-person cell, where he serves his time alone – another courtesy from the prison officials.

Grigory Pasko was arrested on November 20, 1997. He was acquitted by the Pacific Fleet Court in Vladivostok of treason through espionage on July 20, 1999, but sentenced to a three-year imprisonment for misusing his position and released on a general amnesty.

Both sides appealed the verdict. In November 2000 the Military Supreme Court cancelled the verdict, and sent the case back for a new trial at the Pacific Fleet Court. The re-trial started on July 11, 2001 and ended on December 25, with Pasko being convicted to four years of hard labour for treason and taken into custody. Also the latest decision has been appealed by both sides. In an interview published in the Russian daily "Komersant" today, Anatoly Pyshkin said that he expected the appeal case to be scheduled for April-May 2002.