On December 25 2001, the court of the Russian Pacific Fleet found Grigory Pasko guilty of high treason in the form of espionage for having possessed notes taken at a meeting of the Council of the Pacific Fleet that he attended on September 11, 1997.
The verdict that shocked the nation
Although the hand-written notes that were found at Pasko’s flat on November 20, 1997 were not passed over to anybody, the court believed that Pasko kept them at his flat with theintention to hand them over to Tadashi Okano, correspondent of the Japanese newspaper “Asashi”, later. The ruling is not even close to establish that Pasko had the said intention, but still Pasko was sentenced to four year of hard labour.
The sentence did not only shock supporters of Pasko abroad as well as in Russia. It “shocked the whole nation”, is the expression used by the news web-site http://www.gazeta.ru recently.
Observers presume that when passing the sentence the court was under strong pressure from the FSB that brought the case against Pasko, or from circles within the Pacific Fleet. Such an assumption may be fortified by the fact that the arguments given in the ruling in order to establish Pasko’s guilt mostly consists of insignificant phrases, illogical reasoning and a poor evaluation of the law as well as of the evidence of the case.
In contrast the other parts of the verdict, in which Pasko is acquitted on nine various charges, seems solid both when it comes to the evaluation of the facts and the law-application. Thus, one might be tempted to draw the conclusion that the ‘condemning’ part of the verdict is written under duress.
The return of ‘iron-Felix’?
Pasko’s lawyers have appealed the verdict, and are confident that their client will be fully acquitted by the Supreme Court. Awaiting the hearing of the appeal case they have, with the support of the speaker of the upper house of the Russian Parliament, Sergei Mironov, called for Pasko’s immediate release.
The prosecution, on its part believes that four year is too lenient, and demands 12 years for Pasko in its appeal. On a new conference today held in connection with the 280th anniversary of the Russian Prosecution, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, said that cases like Pasko’s should be decided by the courts and not by the level of public noise made in connection with the cases.
The latter remark had a clear connection with the fact that there lately have been arranged protest rallys all over Russia against the Pasko-decision. On January 7, four people were briefly detained after taking part in a rally outside the FSB’s headquarters at Moscow’s Lubyanka Square. According to Interfax news agency they were ordered to appear before a city court.
At the rally protesters moved through the Square carrying mock barbed wire, and placards reading “Who’s next” and “Is Felix back?” The latter referred to the infamous ‘Iron’ Felix Dzerzhinsky, who in 1917 founded the FSB’s predecessor, the Cheka, later to be known as the KGB. Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy leader of the Yabloko party, called for more attention to be given to the case and pleaded with the Russian leaders to ‘restore justice’, Interfax reported.
“Try corrupt admirals, not journalists”
One leader who has heard the said call is Sergei Mironov, who is expected to discuss the case with President Vladimir Putin the forthcoming weekend. He publicly denounced the ruling on January 9. — As a citizen of Russia, I think the man has been convicted for no good reason, Mironov said at a press conference St. Petersburg.
Yesterday dozens of Pasko’s supporters gathered outside the FSB-building in Vladivostok to demand his release. The group unfurled a large yellow banner proclaiming “Try Corrupt Admirals, not Journalists” and remained outside the building for one hour. An FSB-spokesman characterised the protest as a “well-organised political action in no way related to justice”.
Throughout the current week, protests against the conviction and imprisonment of Pasko has also been held in a number of other Russian cities, including Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk, Birobijan, Volgodonsk, Novocherkassk, Rostov on Don, Kalach on Don, Yaroslavl and Nishni Novgorod.
A number of similar actions are planned to take place in the forthcoming weeks. On January 25, the birthday of famous Russian poet and singer Vladimir Visotski, concerts and performances in memory of freedom speech in Russia and in support of Grigory Pasko will be held in several Russian cities.
Grigory Pasko was arrested on November 20, 1997. At the end of a six-month trial in the Pacific Fleet Court in Vladivostok he was acquitted of treason through espionage on July 20, 1999, but pronounced guilty of abusing his official position. Amnesty International monitored the case closely, and expressed serious concerns about the fairness of that trial, and about the impartiality and independence of the court. Pasko was sentenced to a three-year imprisonment for misusing his position, but was released on a general amnesty.
Both sides appealed the 1999-verdict. In November 2000, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court cancelled the verdict, and sent the case back for a new trial at the Pacific Fleet Court. After several postponements, the trial started again on July 11, 2001. It ended on December 25, with Pasko being convicted to four years of hard labour. Amnesty International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience on January 7, 2002, saying that the prosecution of Pasko appears to be “motivated by political reprisal for exposing the practice of dumping nuclear waste”.