Pasko appeals to European Court

Publish date: December 29, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

On December 24, Grigory Pasko’s application was sent to the European Court of Human Rights. On the same day the Russian Supreme Court Presidium rejected his request for a supervisory review of his conviction.

In the 50-page application to the Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, it is submitted that the Russian Government through the treason conviction of Pasko has violated the following of his rights and freedoms under the European Convention on Human Rights:

  • Article 6 – the right to determination within a reasonable time;

  • Article 6 – the right to a fair trial;

  • Article 7 – retroactive use and extensive interpretation of the criminal law;

  • Article 10 – the right to freedom of expression.

Reasonable time
When substantiating that Pasko’s right to have the charges against him determined within a reasonable time has been violated, his attorneys point to the fact that the investigation of the facts of his case was finalised on May 20, 1998, and was never again re-opened.

Thus, the complexity of the case can by no means justify that the Russian law enforcement bodies used more than four years from finalising the investigation to determine the case. This appears as a clear violation of the time limit set up in Article 6.

Fair trial
Several basic fair trial principles enshrined by Article 6 have been violated throughout the case. Firstly, the experts on state secrets that were appointed during the court proceedings were not neutral and independent. This is a violation of the principle of equality of arms.

Secondly, the experts relied on documents and information that were not presented to the defence and the court. Thus, the principle of adversarial proceedings was violated.

Thirdly, the defence was deprived of a real possibility to refute new incriminating claims made by witnesses that were brought into the trial at a late stage. This constitutes not only a violation of the right to equality of arms, but also of the right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of the defence.

Fourthly, the right to be presumed innocent was violated by incriminating statements made by high-ranking Navy officers during the proceedings. At the first trial against Pasko, rear admiral Nikolai Sotskov, for instance said to a regional newspaper that Pasko “was guilty of espionage” (Vladivostok News, January 29, 1999).

Retroactive use of the criminal law
The allegation that Pasko collected and kept secret information is based partly on retroactive use of and partly on extensive interpretation of the law on state secrets. This law application was caused by the experts’ and the courts’ use of the secret decree 055 in order to define the presence of state secrets in the materials possessed by Pasko.

Besides, the use of the secret decree appears in itself as a violation of the principle of legality. Thus, the basic principles of Article 7, which have been established through the case law of the Strasbourg Court, have been violated.

Freedom of expression
Finally it is submitted that Pasko’s freedom of expression under Article 10 was violated. He reported on nuclear safety issues of great public interest. The interferences took the form of seizure of documents necessary for his work; overbroad criminal persecution; and a conviction based on grounds that are capable of discouraging journalists from legitimate enjoyment of the freedom of expression.

Besides, the grave interferences of Pasko’s freedom of expression cannot be justified on national security grounds. The documents he was charged with having collected and kept with the purpose of a subsequent transfer to Japan did not contain state secrets and comprised to a large extent information that already were available in the public domain.

Other cases
Mr. Pasko seeks a finding by the Strasbourg Court that his rights have been violated as set out in his application, and just satisfactions for these violations.

Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights on May 5, 1998. The Court has since then heard two cases involving Russia (Burdov v. Russia, May 7, 2002, application No. 59498/00 and Kalashnikov v. Russia, July 15, 2002, application no. 47095/99). The Russian Government lost both cases.

A number of other Russian cases are currently pending before the Strasbourg Court, including the case of Aleksandr Nikitin (application no. 50178/99). Last October the Court invited the Russian Government to submit its observations on the admissibility and merits of Nikitin’s application. In late November the Court agreed to extend the Government’s time limit to submit its observations to January 22, 2003.

No supervisory review
On the same day as Pasko’s application was forwarded to the Strasbourg Court, it became known that the Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court had rejected his request for a supervisory review, which was handed in on October 21, 2002.

Thus, the Russian legal system may have misused its last chance to set things straight in the Pasko case. As the Strasbourg Court is overloaded with cases, it is hard to predict anything regarding the progress of its handling of Pasko’s application. It is, however, clear that the Russian law enforcement bodies will have much to answer for.

Grigory Pasko worked as a journalist for the newspaper of the Russian Pacific Fleet. He was arrested on November 20, 1997 and charged with treason through espionage. At the same time his home was searched and a large number of his documents seized. He was acquitted of the treason charges by a ruling of July 20, 1999, but convicted for “abuse of his authority”, a crime he was never charged with. This ruling was quashed upon appeal.

Subsequently, the Court of the Pacific Fleet convicted Pasko to four years for treason on December 25, 2001. State secrets experts appointed by the Ministry of Defence assisted the court. The conviction was solely based on one of the ten items that formed the basis for the charges against him. For the remaining items he was acquitted. The Supreme Court’s Military Collegium upheld the conviction with some modifications on June 25, 2002. Pasko is currently serving his sentence in a “hard regime” labour camp in Ussuryisk, in the Russian Far East. His release is scheduled for April 25, 2004.

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