Grigory Pasko goes to labour camp

Publish date: September 10, 2002

Written by: Rashid Alimov

Grigory Pasko, a Russian journalist from Vladivostok charged with high treason and convicted to four years in prison, is being sent to a labour camp north-west of Vladivostok today. The bulk of Pasko's reporting was focused on the environmental consequences of the Pacific Fleet activity.

Galina Morozova, Pasko’s wife, today informed Bellona St Petersburg from Vladivostok that her husband is being sent to a labour camp. Until now, Pasko has been locked in custody in a pre-trial detention centre in Vladivostok.

Strict regime labour camp

Grigory Pasko will be transferred to a strict regime labour camp in the Ussuriysk area, a city located one hundred kilometres north-west of Vladivostok.

Grigory Pasko was convicted by the Pacific Fleet Military Court to four years in prison on December 25th 2001 for having the intention to transfer allegedly secret information to a Japanese journalist. The actual fact of the transfer was not proven, as the transfer never took place.

Originally, Pasko’s charges included 10 items of secret information, but in December 2001, the Court left only one of them, excluding all the items that were related to Pasko’s environmental reporting. The remaining item said that the security police confiscated hand-written notes made by Pasko at a meeting of the Pacific Fleet military council.

The verdict says that Pasko intended to pass those allegedly secret notes to the Japanese journalist Tasashi Okano. The conclusion that those notes contained state secrets was made by a group of military experts who based their evaluations on the secret military decree No. 055:96.

Pros and cons

According to informed sources, Pasko’s case was discussed by president Putin’s administration prior to the conviction in December. The pros and cons of a conviction, such as the negative image of Putin in the West, were evaluated. The decision was made, however, in favour of the military and the security police, which still were upset by the outcome of the case of Bellona’s Aleksandr Nikitin.

Aleksandr Nikitin — who was charged with high treason for making an environmental report about the Northern Fleet — was fully acquitted in December 1999 by St Petersburg City Court. The Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court confirmed the aqcuittal on September 13th 2000.

Boundless joy

The conviction of Pasko led to boundless joy within the Russian Security Police, the FSB. The chief investigator of the case, who had been reprimanded by the Vladivostok Court for his illegal actions while investigating the case, was awarded by his superiors.

Local departments of the FSB placed articles from their press services in Russian regional newspapers describing how bad Pasko was and that the punishment he received was well-deserved. The Russian national TV network, ORT, broadcast several times in prime time a documentary about Pasko’s work “as a spy.” It was hoped that such action would form the public opinion in the state’s favour since there was an outrage after the verdict was announced in December 2001.

The verdict from the Pacific Fleet Military Court was appealed by both Pasko and the prosecution to the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court. Pasko demanded a full acquittal whereas the prosecution insisted on stricter punishment.

But the decision from the Military Collegium was expected. With minor modifications in favour of Pasko, the Collegium upheld the decision of the Vladivostok Court in June 2002.

No supervisory review

A request from several Russian law-makers was in July sent to Vyacheslav Lebedev, the Chairman of the Supreme Court, urging him to bring the case before the Supreme Court Presidium for a supervisory review. Yet, the fact that Pasko is now being transferred from the pre-trial detention centre to the labour camp may indicate that the request has been ignored.

Lebedev will however soon also have to consider a request for a supervisory review filed by Pasko’s lawyers, which is expected to be filed in mid-September. Moreover, the application Pasko previously has filed to the European Court on Human Rights (case no. 69518/01) will be updated and extended. Thus, the saga of Grigory Pasko’s almost five year long legal battle is by no means over.

Pasko has already spent 2.5 years in prison and will be released from the labour camp on April 25th 2004. There is a possibility for an earlier release in December, which will be dependent on “good behaviour” while inside. But guards in the pre-trial detention centre have warned Pasko and said that they would use all tricks in the book in order to ensure that he will not be released before his term. They said they would make it seem that he violates the camp rules such as smoking (Pasko does not smoke), spitting in wrong places or looking unfriendly at a guard.

Grigory Pasko is an editor in chief of the magazine published by Bellona St Petersburg called Environment and Rights. The transfer to the labour camp will complicate communication between Pasko, his wife and his lawyers.

Galina says she was told that her husband will now be placed under quarantine for three weeks and she will be able to see him only in November.


Pasko case background

Grigory Pasko, an investigative journalist who worked for the Pacific Fleet’s newspaper, was arrested in Vladivostok on November 20th 1997. The Russian Security Police, FSB, accused Pasko for having committed high treason through espionage when working with Japanese journalists.

Pasko’s publications were focusing primarily on nuclear safety issues in the Russian Pacific Fleet.

In July 1999 the Court of the Russian Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok acquitted Pasko of the treason charges, but sentenced him to three years in prison for ‘abuse of his official position’ and released him under a general amnesty.

Pasko appealed, but so did the prosecution, insisting that he was a spy. In November 2000 the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court cancelled the verdict, and sent the case back for a re-trial at the Pacific Fleet Court.

After several postponements, the re-trial started on July 11th 2001. It ended on Christmas Day 2001, with Pasko being acquitted on nine out of ten charges, but he was still convicted to four years of hard labour for treason and taken into custody.

Amnesty International adopted Pasko as a prisoner of conscience on January 7th 2002, saying that the prosecution of Pasko appears to be “motivated by political reprisal for exposing the practice of dumping nuclear waste.”

Both sides appealed the verdict. While the defence demanded a full acquittal, the prosecution believed the sentence was too lenient and demanded 12 years for Pasko. The hearing of the appeal case in the Supreme Court was held on June 25, 2002. The verdict was slightly changed, but the 4-year sentence remained the same.

The European Parliament has in two resolutions issued respectively in February and July 2002 denounced the conviction of Pasko. On September 5th Pasko was nominated as a candidate for the Parliament’s prestigous Sakharov prize.

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