One day before he argues an appeal before the Russian Supreme Court, 31-year-old Ivan Pavlov repeats a dark joke that has sustained him through four years of court battles to secure freedom for his client Grigory Pasko, a military journalist who exposed illegal nuclear waste dumping practices by Russia's Pacific Fleet.
"The comment is attributed to some judge," said Pavlov, casually reclining on the bed in his Moscow hotel room.
"He said this: "If I can’t send an innocent man to jail, then I sentence him to probation." Pavlov lets the dark resonance of the comment hang for a moment before he energetically springs to explain the implications — if you can’t find a man innocent in this legal system, then you have to sentence him to something.
"And this applies to Pasko," said Pavlov, whose client was staring down a 20-year stretch for espionage when he was sentenced to four years last December. "They gave him three times below the minimum penalty for espionage because he is innocent — innocent."
Pavlov himself is young, but also wise beyond his years — partly thanks to the arduousness of the Pasko case, and he is capable at once of youthful pop-culture references and quotations from the Bible and allusions to Russian history. Energetic in mind and body, he has come from his native St Petersburg for the appeal to not only free his client, but, as much as possible, to avenge those who convicted him in the first place.
"This is not a case that belongs in the year 2002," said Ragnhild Astrup Tchudi of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights at a press conference Monday.
"It is a chilling reminder of earlier times — illegal searches, secret decrees — these violations of the fundamental principles of the European Convention on Human Rights."
On Tuesday, the case of Grigory Pasko will be heard in appeal by the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court, though the defendant himself will not be present — a decision taken by his lawyers to avoid the 10-day train trip from his prison in Vladivostok and the stop-over jails Pasko would be forced to endure to attend the Moscow appeal.
If the appeal is successful, Pasko will be free. If it is not, he will be forced to serve his four-year sentence while Bellona and other rights groups try to obtain justice at the Council of Europe courts.
They are attempting to hang the Iron Curtain again — the last ten years have taught us nothing."