Sutyagin to remain in prison

Publish date: March 20, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

The Russian Supreme Court ruled today that Igor Sutyagin, who has been imprisoned on bogus espionage charges since October 1999, shall be kept behind bars, despite the FSB's significant law violations.

Researcher Igor Sutyagin of the USA and Canada department of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was arrested by the Russian Secret Police (the FSB) in Kaluga on October 27, 1999. He has been kept imprisoned ever since, on charges of treason through espionage.

Significant law violations

His case was brought to trial last year. The prosecutor could not convince the Kaluga City Court about the rightfulness of the charges, but rather than aqutting Sutyagin, the Court sent the case back to the FSB for additional investigation on December 27, 2001.

The Court based its decision on the FSB’s substantial law violations throughout its investigation of the case. The FSB had, according to the Kaluga Court deprived Mr. Sutyagin of his constitutional rights to defend himself.

In particular the Court pointed out that the indictment did not specify what were the secrets that Sutyagin allegedly had disclosed, and that the charges against him were based on Decree No. 55 of the Ministry of Defence, which was secret and not registered and therefore could not be used as basis for prosecution. In short, the Court found that there was no evidence against Sutyagin, and that the case lacks both a factual and a legal foundation. In any country ruled by law, such findings would have led to an acquittal, but not in Russia.

The arbitrariness in the system

Sutyagin’s defence appealed the decision, demanding his immediate release and that the case should be closed due to the lack of content of crime in his actions. After a week’s postponement caused by the Russian General Prosecutor, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal today. The ruling means that Sutyagin, who has spent almost 30 months in prison under appalling conditions, will be kept imprisoned for several more months, while the FSB-investigators, are trying to re-fabricate their case against him.

The Supreme Court decision clearly reveals that arbitrariness, and not the rule of law, is the daily routine within the Russian legal system. The Washington Post pointed at this in its editorial of November 12, 2001 (“Injustice in Russia”)

“If [Sutyagin’s case] sounds like a bad parody of Kafka, that’s precisely the intention: The FSB wants Russians to know that it has the ability to jail anyone who somehow displeases the authorities, regardless of evidence or the law.”

Today, the Russian Supreme Court demonstrated that its control of the activities and abilities of the FSB in Putin’s Russia are highly limited. It may be able to return cases to additional investigation, but it can not terminate cases, no matter how ungrounded they are.