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‘Supervisory Appeal’ May Be Pasko’s Last Chance

Publish date: June 27, 2002

Written by: Charles Digges

After a devastating blow to the case to free Grigory Pasko – whose four-year sentence for treason was upheld Tuesday on appeal by the Supreme Court’s military collegium – Pasko’s lawyers cautiously announced on the following day that there may yet be one more avenue to secure his freedom.

A so-called supervisory appeal to a higher judicial entity – an option particular to the Russian legal system – would allow Pasko’s defence team to file a complaint with Supreme Court Chairman Vladimir Lebedev, or one of his deputies, asking the chairman to look into the legality and foundations of yesterday’s decision. If Lebedev accepts the appeal, it would be passed to the presidium of the Supreme Court where 15 judges would hear the appeal in court and the verdict would be decided by a vote.

“It’s our last chance to cancel the December verdict, and it’s not big,” said Ivan Pavlov in an interview following a press conference where he and Pasko’s two other lawyers, Genry Reznik and Anatoly Pyshkin, announced their intention of filing the supervisory appeal, or nadzornaya zhaloba, as it is called in Russian.

“Where the desire for an appeal depends on the accused and his lawyer, the supervisory appeal depends on the desire of the Chairman of the Supreme Court, or one of his deputies,” Pavlov said.

According to Pavlov, the Supreme Court’s presidium would have precisely the same options before it that the military collegium had: either to leave the December verdict against Pasko untouched – as happened Tuesday – or nullify the verdict and set him free.

Pavlov said that the review process for the appeal, once it is submitted to Lebedev, would be relatively short – perhaps a month and a half.

But all of this is contingent on whether the Supreme Court chairman is willing to even look at the brief which Pasko’s lawyers began preparing during an impromptu meeting, attended by Bellona Web, in a spare room immediately after the press conference. Doling out assignments to one another and discussing new approaches, the lawyers said they wanted the appeal to reach Lebedev soon.

Pasko, a 40-year-old former reporter for the military Boyevaya Vakhta newspaper of the Russian Pacific Fleet, was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment on Dec.25, for allegedly intending to pass classified information on navy manoeuvres to Japanese media. The conviction was based on two now abolished Defence Ministry decrees – Decree No.10, which barred military personnel from fraternizing with foreigners and Defence Ministry decree No. 55, which was a broad vague list of items considered to be state secrets. Decree No. 10 was abolished by the Supreme Court in May and No. 55 was declared at the same hearing not to have the force of law, and thus not a legal foundation for prosecution.

Environmental protection and human rights groups, such as Bellona, the US-based Sierra Club, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and Amnesty International said the conviction was motivated by a series of exposes he did about the Russian navy’s illegally dumping nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan.

Many of these groups also consider the Pasko verdict to be revenge for the 1999 acquittal of Bellona’s Aleksandr Nikitin, a former sub-captain turned environmentalist who blew the whistle on the Northern Fleet’s negligence with its nuclear waste. For contributing to a Bellona report on this, Nikitin battled treason charges for almost five years, but was eventually exonerated.

For the Lebedev appeal, Pasko’s lawyers agreed that much of the political content of their original presentation – such as harassment by the FSB – should be eliminated. Instead, Reznik said the new brief should focus on the two recently abolished Ministry of Defence decrees that landed Pasko in jail on Dec. 25.

Since the December conviction rested on the prosecution’s assertion that Pasko intended to give notes to Japanese journalists, Reznik said that the appeal should strike, among other places, on this point.

“If espionage is the handing-over of materials, then there is no connection to that here,” said Reznik.

“There are possessors of secrets, and that’s one thing – a spy is a passer of secrets,” he said. It is arguable, in fact, that, in light of the watered-down Defence Ministry decree No. 55, Pasko was ever in possession of anything that could be considered a state secret.

Pavlov, Reznik and Pyshkin also plan to enlist the help of Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov, who publicly spoke out against the Dec. 25 verdict. But Mironov, at the time, also discussed the idea of a pardon, which Pasko and his lawyers categorically oppose.

One of the risks of the appeal to Lebedev, Pavlov pointed out, is that it could wind up back in the hands of the Supreme Court’s military collegium. But it is a risk the lawyers think is worth taking.

Otherwise, as Academician Alexei Yablokov, who heads Moscow’s Non-Governmental Center for Ecological Policies in Russia, Pasko may have only foreign outcry to rely on.

“He could get help in the form of pressure from France and Germany particularly, with whose leaders Russian President Vladimir Putin has good relations,” Yablokov told Bellona Web. Then again, as evidenced by Putin’s documented unfamiliarity with the case, Yablokov suggested, the president’s minions could be keeping him out of the loop.

“This has all happened because the security services have thrown their resources in the wrong direction,” said Yablokov. “The next step for the Pasko case is international help.”

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