— A throw-back to Soviet justice

Publish date: July 10, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

Last month's decision by the Russian Supreme Court upholding the espionage conviction against environmental whistleblower Grigory Pasko has created harsh international reactions.

On June 25, 2002 the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court sustained the Pacific Fleet Court’s treason conviction of Grigory Pasko, who has won international plaudits for his role in uncovering potential nuclear disasters involving Russia’s Pacific Fleet. Last week the European Parliament denoted the decision as a considerable setback for the rule of law in Russia. Also other international reactions have been harsh.

Orwellian Justice
— The decision is a throw-back to Soviet-style justice against dissidents, complete with Orwellian judicial proceedings and hard labour at a gulag, said Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project (GAP), a public interest law firm specialising in whistleblower protection, with offices in Washington, D.C., and Seattle.

— In upholding the sentence against Mr. Pasko, the court based its decision on the Russian intelligence service’s version of what he thought, not what he did, Carpenter said in a statement issued by GAP. — In a legal system more reminiscent of that of Joseph Stalin rather than a NATO partner, Mr. Pasko’s case exemplifies a corrupt bureaucracy seeking to punish a dissenter.

GAP urges Russian officials to release Pasko now, and show that Russia is ready to give up its old habits of reprisal against dissenters and begin respecting human rights.

A verdict of the past
In a press release issued on July 3, 2002 the International Helsinki Federation of Human Rights (IHF) states that Pasko was punished for his alleged thoughts, not for his actions, and that the conviction was based on illegally confiscated ‘evidence’.

The respected human rights organisation, also points out that the way of thinking that is evident of the Supreme Court’s verdict belongs to times past. With reference to President Putin’s expressed wish to turn Russian into "a dictatorship of the law" the IHF is concerned that the law has not ruled in the Pasko-case.

Political vendetta
Amnesty International, who adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience in January, said in a news release that the conviction appears "motivated by political reprisal for exposing the practice of dumping nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan, as well as alleged corruption within the higher military command of the Russian Pacific Fleet."

Also the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed that the Pasko’s conviction and sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. — With every ruling, the case against Pasko looks more and more like a political vendetta said CPJ’s honorary co-chairman Terry Anderson in a statement issued after the June 25 ruling.

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 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 for having kept notes taken at a meeting of the staff of the Pacific Fleet at home with the alleged intention to hand them over to the Japanese Journalist Tadashi Okano.

The verdict was again appealed by both sides. On June 25, 2002 the Military Supreme Court confirmed Pasko’s four-year sentence, which means that he will be released on April 25, 2004. Pasko’s defence team is currently preparing a request to the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court, Vyacheslav Lebedev, to bring the case before the Supreme Court Presidium.