More concerned voices

Publish date: June 22, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

As the hearing of the appeal case of Grigory Pasko is closing in, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Helsinki Federation has joined in the chorus of concerned voices.

In a statement dated June 21, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists, who has followed the case closely and sent several delegations to Vladivostok where Pasko was tried and now is jailed, calls for a full exoneration of the imprisoned journalist.

– Russian authorities have been persecuting Grigory Pasko since 1997 in retaliation for his articles about environmental dangers that jeopardised the health of the Russian people, says the Committee’s executive director Ann Cooper. On June 25, we hope the Military Collegium sees that justice is done by clearing Pasko’s name and setting him free.

Open letter to Putin
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF), a non-governmental human rights organisation representing a network of 41 national Helsinki Committees and co-operating organisations around the world, expersses in an open letter to President Vladimir Putin its concerns regarding the case.

The respected human rights organisation finds it alarming that the de facto foundation of the verdict against Pasko is secret military regulations, which according to recent Supreme Court rulings partly contradicts federal law and partly have no legal force. – Thus, the legal basis for the verdict no longer exists, concludes the IHF.

The IHF also states that a number of Russia’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia ratified in May 1998, have been ignored in the case.

It doubts that a Military Court can be considered as an "impartial and independent tribunal" in the sense of Article 6 (1) of the convention. Since the proceedings against Pasko has continued for almost five years, the IHF also believes that his right to have the charges determined "within a reasonable time" under Article 6 (1) has been violated.

Moreover the IHF concludes that the Vladivostok Court’s evaluation of the evidence of the case contradicts the principles of the presumption of innocence expressed in Article 6 (2) of the European Convention and that the use of secret and non-normative legal acts as basis for the conviction violates its Article 7.

Obedient servants
Concluding the letter the IHF quotes Sergei Kovalyov, the former Human Rights Ombudsman in Russia, who recently said that the conviction of Pasko shows that Russian courts are still obedient servants of a repressive system.

Still, the IHF hopes that the Supreme Court uses this opportunity to "prove its independence and trustworthiness in its commitment to its international obligations."

Grigory Pasko was arrested on November 20, 1997 and charged with treason through espionage. He was acquitted of these charges by the Pacific Fleet Court in Vladivostok of on July 20, 1999, but sentenced to a three-year imprisonment for ‘abuse of his official position although he was not charged with that crime, and released on a general amnesty.

After both sides had appealed, the Military Supreme Court cancelled the verdict in November 2000 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 and taken into custody. Both sides again appealed against the verdict. The appeal case has been scheduled to June 25, 2002.