The Belt of Light and Control

Publish date: November 22, 2002

Written by: Ivan Pavlov

Translated by: Maria Kaminskaya

The Pasko case became fateful in my legal career, more than that — it split my whole life into two parts: before and after. But that is a long and altogether different story… Today, I have no regrets and I would have accepted no offer to take me back to that time when I had not yet started work on this case as a defender. Although, if it had at all been possible, I would have reviewed some of my steps… but this has nothing to do with the strategy of defence.

Notes of a lawyer

I ask for lenience from all my colleagues

who think a lawyer should not

write anything but appeals.

I am still certain that our team has done and is doing everything possible for the case. This is not only my own opinion, but that of well-recognized authorities in the legal profession as well. All our work, in the context of closed court sessions and the keen attention paid to the case by the public, has been covered by traditional media and in reports posted on Internet sites. The reason for that was to give everyone the opportunity to appraise the force of our arguments, which only prove that our client is innocent.

I am confident that Pasko is innocent. And I am not stating this because I am his lawyer — you would not hear a lawyer say anything else. But I say this also because I know thoroughly all the subtleties and fine points of the case, otherwise I would deny any comments to the media. Trust me on this, the defender always knows better than the prosecutor or the judge. It is exactly this knowledge that has allowed me to comment on the trial and insist on the single outcome possible in the case — acquittal.

This is why Pasko’s conviction was also felt by me as a personal insult. It meant that if the court at all found anyone guilty, the guilt lay not on Pasko, but on us. It meant we had failed to defend an innocent person.

However, one who raises one’s gun must shoot it… Ahead is the opportunity to have the case reviewed with a higher authority — the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court, and in any case there are always international courts to turn to. The main goal is to wrest this case from the hands of military justice. The military court has only convicted itself and stained once and for all its own reputation as a body of justice. Yet, all of this pertains to strategies and tactics, while one fact remains: Grigory Pasko is doing time in jail. If only for a most ludicrous verdict, but a guilty one all the same. It is ludicrous because of the suspiciously lenient punishment the “guilty” person got for the most severe state crime.


The circumstances require immediate actions. One of them is to get familiar with the locality. Six months out of the last year I was in Vladivostok. In November this year I travelled to Ussuryisk. It is there, in a so-called hard labour camp, that journalist, writer, poet Grigory Mikhailovich Pasko was sent to serve his time by the military court.

Ussuryisk is a small, typically provincial town. Only recently could you hear the thunder and rumbling of the main plant of the town — a military tank repair workshop. The plant defined the town’s whole life and fed most its inhabitants. Now, as the locals say, there are only four workers at the plant, who are busy repairing two tanks. At the same time, Ussuryisk offers a hotel — bearing the same name — where the rate for a VIP luxury suite reaches 600 rubles ($20) per night, which includes the shameless roaches. The prison camp’s barracks look much like the hotel, only they were probably “erected” a hundred years earlier…

The camp is located outside Ussuryisk, and getting there involves either taking a coach bus, which goes on a schedule several times a day leaving from the centre of the town, or a cab — to my surprise, this small town seemed to teem with taxis. Wasn’t it so natural that the little town of N., from the famous novel “Twelve chairs”, came to my mind, with its abundance of barber shops and funeral parlours… Still — unless you have already taken care of the transportation problem — the trip back from the prison camp can cause significant trouble. And even turn into a long walk along a deserted road. True, before coming here — the wilful nature of the local climate being well-known to me from firsthand experience in Vladivostok last year — I had armed myself with wind-proof, rain-proof warm clothes, the bright green of which, by the way, was so conspicuously in contrast with what the local population seemed to prefer… Here, grey and black are all the fashion.


I have preserved a very vivid recollection of how our university professor, who taught a course on criminal and executory law, sketched for us students a map of where living quarters and facilities are laid out in a typical correctional camp. I had no way of knowing then that the field practice for that course was awaiting me many years after the graduation. For those who are unfamiliar with prison life peculiarities, here is the explanation. Every prison colony, as they are called in Russia, is surrounded by a continuous, well-watched and well-gunned, perimeter or so-called control-and-light belt that is illuminated by searchlights and is especially clearly seen when you are approaching a facility like that during dark hours. Around the perimeter stand watchtowers, where soldiers, armed with machine guns, keep their guard. Inside, almost every colony is divided into two similarly sized zones, hence the Russian slang word for “prison camp” — zona. One of the zones is the dwelling quarters housing the barracks-type communal spaces where the inmates live and sleep, the solitary confinement block, the administration building and a number of subsidiary buildings. The name of the other could be translated as “the work zone”. Already by its definition one can conclude that this is where everything relating to the modest means and methods of correcting the “special contingent” is located.

Our country corrects criminals by putting them to work, and the colony, where Pasko was sent to do his time, proudly serves the cause of supporting Russia’s woodworking industry. Speaking simply, inmates here are made to produce furniture, big massive doors, as their correctors try in this ingenuous way to return the wayward citizens back to the tracks of the law-abiding, order-respecting lifestyle. You never can tell — what if our “pseudo-almost-near-spy,” under the influence of the work therapy, will reform and next time will think twice before causing damage to state security?

The head warden of the camp was off on vacation, and I was — at the appointed hour, which was agreed upon from St Petersburg prior to my visit — received by his deputy, lieutenant-colonel of justice Sergei Artyukov. I have to give credit to the thoroughness and efficiency with which the administration was organizing my visit. Immediately after mutual introductions, Artyukov called for an officer and ordered him to show me into the office of a security officer, where our meeting with Grigory took place. Once I got to know the camp’s authorities, it became clear that they would do anything to Pasko — if they get an appropriate order, or would do nothing — if no such order is issued.


To tell you the truth, I was so naive as to think that a convicted reporter sent to a prison camp would be used somehow according to his professional abilities. That he would be put to work in the library, or to run the cultural activities sector. But he is part of a brigade that manufactures doors. The brigade is always overfulfilling its plan — a quota of work it receives from the camp’s authorities every month. One organization even offered to buy Pasko-made door products wholesale — as rarities.

Grigory doesn’t want to complain, he doesn’t want to ask for a transfer to where it’s easier, and that’s not something inmates do anyway. As for the administration — which knows very well that Pasko’s health was damaged even while in the pre-trial detention centre — it is in no hurry to transfer him elsewhere. You and I might ask: Why is not somebody versed in skills that few have, somebody who, furthermore, suffers from rheumatic back pains, given tasks that would be equivalent to his education and state of health? We will see the obvious answer if we give it some thinking. If we remember what goal was set by the initiators of this case. The goal is to destroy in Pasko everything that made his professional life.

By using the methods of criminal proceedings, they want to kill the journalist in Pasko.

But, to keep himself in a professional form, he is still managing to write…


Apart from the notes and articles he publishes in the Ekologiya i pravo (Ecology and Law) magazine, where as the editor-in-chief he has a regular column, Grigory is busy piecing together legal complaints and other documents for fellow convicts. And there are quite tangible results of “such Sunday assignments.” Thanks to an appeal written by Pasko, one of the inmates received in court a two-year reduction in his sentence. You can only imagine what respect Pasko won among his fellow convicts for his help. In all, remembering the long courtroom marathon in Vladivostok, I have to say that after years of struggle, Pasko has mastered the qualities distinctive of a professional litigator.


The 2nd detachment of the correctional camp is comprised of 123 convicts, with only two in their midst who are non-smokers. Among those two is Grigory. The daily regime is one of military simplicity: Reveille at 6:30 a.m., callisthenics and a synchronic attempt by 123 grownup men to conduct the usual morning hygiene procedures, using for these purposes three round holes in the floor of the bathroom and three taps with cold water. Start of work at 7:30 a.m., end of work at 6:00 p.m. Six workdays and a day-off on Sunday. Physical exercises in fresh air, especially “wholesome” in the damp Far Eastern winter for patients suffering from spinal problems. Formations, counts in the morning and at night, shmon, or cell-tossing by the guards in search of contraband in the living spaces. Marching to work, marching back from work. Meals, as it goes, at the level of the service. In short, the whole amusement park, a tour of which, according to our legislators’ concept, would completely reform the criminals, and should they ever be freed, they would never commit anything reprehensible again.

The only thing is, as usual, the system makes no provisions for the chance of a legal mistake. Just try to imagine what happens in the mind of an innocent man who has found himself dragged through the sawmill of the Russian penitentiary machine. Sometime Grigory himself will tell you about it.

Time stops for one in the zona. But Grigory is holding up like a man — although it’s apparent how tense his nerves are. While discussing the state of our affairs, among other things, I told him that his criminal case has been summoned by the Supreme Court for review as they are considering our latest appeal. At parting, we asked each other — was there anything we left out of our discussion? And I remembered how each night in Vladivostok, finishing another day of preparations for yet another court session, we asked each other the same question.

We respect the law and we have to make peace with a verdict that has come into legal force, but we will only go along with it until the minute it is annulled. Truth will always remain truth. That’s why we have to believe that annulling this openly unjust conviction is only a question of time. Even though now and then this time can look as eternal as a lifetime.