Russian activists fight security police frame-up

August 6, 1998

By Renfrey Clarke

MOSCOW — In a grim reflection on the state of human rights in Russia, naval journalist and environmental campaigner Grigory Pasko remains in prison on charges of high treason brought against him by the country's security police. Alarmed and angered by the case, Moscow environmentalists and human rights supporters have set up a Pasko defence committee.

Until his arrest last November, Pasko was a captain in the Russian navy's Pacific Fleet and a journalist for its newspaper Boevaya Vakhta (Combat Watch). Throughout the 1990s, he has sought to expose the dumping by the navy of nuclear wastes in the Pacific and the Sea of Japan. Video footage of dumping operations which he shot in 1993 caused an international furore when shown on Japanese television.

The Pacific Fleet apparatus of the Federal Security Service (FSB) — the main successor to the KGB — moved against Pasko last year after he emerged as a leading candidate for the editorship of his newspaper. At the time, he was also reportedly investigating the dumping of chemical weapons in the Sea of Japan.

He was arrested on November 20 as he returned to home to Vladivostok following a trip to Japan, where he had been researching a story about the graves of Russian sailors.

When he left home on November 13, Pasko took with him a sheaf of documents related to his environmental concerns, intending to work on them while in Japan. As he went through customs at Vladivostok airport, these materials were confiscated. When he returned and was arrested, his apartment was searched and his personal archives seized.

In statements to the media, the FSB alleged that Pasko had collected and stored information containing state secrets with the intention of divulging it. He was also accused of breaching the criminal code which prohibits Russian citizens from providing "aid to a foreign state, to a foreign organisation or to its representatives in the conducting of hostile activity to the detriment of Russian security".

The FSB now has to show that Pasko had secret materials in his possession. According to lawyers who have examined the seized documents, there is nothing in them that can be considered a state secret or that is classified as such.

Establishing that Pasko helped a hostile foreign organisation will also pose problems for the FSB. The foreign organisations with which Pasko has worked are the Japanese newspaper Asahi and the television company NHK. If the Russian authorities have decided that the Japanese media are actively working to undermine Russia's security, the effects for Russian-Japanese relations will be interesting, to say the least.

Although the investigation has now been completed, Pasko has not been granted bail. The Vladivostok environmental group Ecologos reported late in July that a local court had extended his custody "despite the breach of all imaginable articles of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation relating to detention and investigation". According to Ecologos spokesperson Andrey Kubanin, the judges ignored complaints from Pasko's defenders and failed to substantiate their decision, which in itself was a breach of the criminal code.

"The investigators are afraid that if Grigory is freed, he will reveal the fakery upon which the accusation is constructed", Kubanin charged.

According to Ecologos, the general prosecutor's office — formally responsible for all criminal prosecutions in Russia — has ignored calls to take up the irregularities in the FSB's handling of the case. The general prosecutor himself has affirmed the "correctness" of all the FSB's actions.

"Either the general prosecutor forgot the criminal code", Kubanin observed, "or he had by that time forgotten the complaints and enquiries we had directed to him, or else we are falling rapidly into a situation where the interests of the authorities are rated higher than all values".

Also disturbing have been efforts by the authorities to deter the media from covering the case. As related by Kubanin, journalists in Vladivostok who have taken up the story have been harassed by the FSB and, in at least one case, threatened with prosecution. Editors now prefer not to get into fights with the security police and as a result, "an information vacuum has been created around the case". A recent issue of the newspaper Novosti containing a report by a Moscow-based writer on the Pasko case was withheld from retail sale and sent to only some of its subscribers.

The trial, likely to go ahead relatively soon, will be held in a closed military court. If Pasko is found guilty, he could be jailed for up to 20 years.

In Moscow, journalists' rights activists have joined with environmentalists, lawyers and human rights campaigners to set up a Public Committee in Defence of Grigory Pasko. The committee's best-known member is Professor Aleksey Yablokov, who for years was President Boris Yeltsin's advisor on environmental issues.

In its initial statement on July 13, the committee argued that the investigation had "found no facts to support the charges". Meanwhile, the investigative procedures had been "accompanied by such gross breaches of the law that these facts alone ... would provide a basis for throwing the case out".

The committee stated that the Pasko case represents "a continuation on the part of the security services of a deliberate campaign to control the spread of information which under Russian law and all international agreements cannot be secret".

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