June 25, 2002 was a bad day for justice and legal reforms in Russia. On this day the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court confirmed the outrageous espionage conviction of journalist Grigory Pasko and thus, acted as the obedient servant of a repressive system that may have appeared to be dead, but who has refused to lie down.
The Military Collegium changed the verdict of the Pacific Fleet Court from December 25, 2001 on some points. These changes make the conviction even more incomprehensible than before. While the verdict of the Pacific Fleet Court at least was based on a logical (but deceptive) description of the events, the Supreme Court verdict contains no such logic.
If one believes the picture painted by the Pacific Fleet Court, Pasko illegally penetrated a meeting of the staff of the Pacific Fleet held at September 12, 1997. Here he collected secret information, which he intended to hand over to the Japanese journalist Tadashi Okano with whom he had illegal contact. This is a twisted version of the events, but if one looks away from the reality, it could describe the activity of a spy.
The Supreme Court has, however, further deprived the conviction its basis by declaring that Pasko’s contacts with Okano, as well as his presence at the staff meeting on September 12, 1997 were legal. In fact, his only illegal "act" was that he had the alleged intention to transfer the notes to Mr. Okano.
The thoughts police
Pasko was thus, not convicted for having accomplished a crime or for having attempted to do so, but only for allegedly having had a certain thought in his head.
In a country ruled by law one does not enter the stage of committing a crime before one’s thoughts have materialises themselves in concrete actions, for instance through an attempt of handing over secret information to a foreign citizen or through an accomplished transferral. In Russia a thought is, however, enough to be convicted by "the thoughts police" to serve four years under appalling conditions.
This is a remnant of the repressive system that once imprisoned and executed millions of Russians for their "criminal" thoughts. In those days the Courts served the system well. Unfortunately this still seems to be the case.
The days of ’67
The Court convicted Pasko on the basis of loose allegations of what he could have done. Its elaborations regarding Pasko’s intentions are speculative and not based on facts, but solely on assumptions and on the FSB’s wish to get a conviction.
This wish was fulfilled and thus, it seems like little has changed since the days of 1967 when the then chairman of the Russian Supreme Court. Mr. A. F. Gorkhin, in a speech to the chairman of the KGB, Yury Andropov, honouring the KGB’s 50th anniversary said:
"The Soviet Courts and the KGB are of the same age. But this is not the main thing which brings us together; the main thing is the identity of our tasks " (Quoted from Christopher Andrew and Vasili Mitrokhin, "The Mitrokhin Archive", Penguin Books 2000, p. 9).
The struggle continues
The conviction has now reached legal force. Pasko will shortly be moved from his cell in Vladivostok to a labour camp somewhere in the Russian Far East where he will serve the rest of his sentence chopping wood together with some of Russia’s worst criminals.
Pasko’s legal team will file a petition to the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court, Mr. Vyacheslav Lebedev, urging him to use his right to bring the case before the Supreme Court Presidium for a possible re-evaluation. There is, however, reason to believe that the outcome of the Military Collegium’s hearing on June 25 was predestined. The petition to Mr. Lebedev may therefore well be a shot in the dark.
Moreover, an application will be filed to the European Court on Human Rights in Strasbourg. But Pasko will most likely have served his time before the European Court will be able to hear his case.
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.
The verdict was again appealed by both sides. On June 25, 2002 the Military Supreme Court confirmed Pasko’s four-year sentence. Unless the defence’s petition to Mr. Lebedev should lead somewhere, Pasko will be released on April 25, 2004.