The Sierra Club was founded in 1892 with 182 charter members. Throughout the last century its grassroots advocacy has made it America’s by far most influential environmental organisation. Today it has around 750.000 members and is engaged in a number of environmental and human rights issues all over the world.
Given the history of the organisation, it should come as no surprise that it has engaged itself in the case of Russian journalist Grigory Pasko who will be tried in absentia by the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court on June 25.
In a letter to President Vladimir Putin dated June 18, signed by executive director Carl Pope, and cc’d to George Bush jr’s national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, and the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, the Sierra Club expresses its concern regarding the prosecution of Pasko. The organisation believes that the Russian Supreme Court’s deliberations and eventual ruling on his case will test Russia’s commitment to democratic principles, including the freedom of speech.
A useful reminder
The Sierra Club points to the fact that Pasko on December 25, 2001 was acquitted of nine out of ten charges, and only convicted for possessing handwritten notes taken at a meeting of the Pacific Fleet staff in 1997 with the alleged intention to transfer the notes to Japanese media. Thus, even the December 25 ruling confirms that Pasko did not reveal state secrets.
This could in fact be a useful reminder for Putin, who when visiting Paris in January 2002 said that not even Pasko’s lawyers questioned “the fact” that Pasko had transferred secret information to Japan.
The Sierra Club names the Pasko case as one of several recent examples of cases in which the Russian prosecution has flouted the rights guaranteed in the Russian Constitution and attempted to silence journalists and scientists, who have tried to bring environmental crimes to light.
The Pasko-case reflects poorly on Russia’s commitment to democracy, continues the Sierra Club, before concluding: “If Pasko’s conviction is allowed to stand, it will come at a cost of Russia’s reputation among free nations”.
Grigory Pasko was arrested on November 20, 1997 and accused with treason through espionage. He was acquitted by the Pacific Fleet Court in Vladivostok on these charges on July 20, 1999, but sentenced to a three-year imprisonment for misusing his position and released on a general amnesty. Both sides appealed the verdict.
In November 2000 the Russian Military Supreme Court cancelled the verdict, 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 for treason and taken into custody. The verdict has led to huge protests inside of as well as outside Russia. The appeal case is scheduled for hearing on June 25, 2002.