Russia: CPJ protests Grigory Pasko conviction

July 20,1999

His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277

Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is greatly troubled by today’s conviction of Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko for providing allegedly classified information to Japanese media about the Pacific Fleet’s hazardous handling of nuclear waste.

A closed military tribunal in Vladivostok sentenced the 37-year-old Pasko to three years in prison under Article 285 of the Russian penal code (abusing his authority as a naval officer). He was then freed under an amnesty that the Russian Duma announced earlier this year for prisoners convicted of so-called less dangerous crimes.

Pasko, a naval captain and military journalist with Boyevaya Vakhta, the Russian fleet’s newspaper, had already spent 20 months in prison under Article 275 of the penal code (high treason and revealing state secrets), for the same offence, a series of reports on the Russian navy’s environmental abuses in the Far East that appeared on Japan’s NHK television channel and in the Asahi Shimbun newspaper. His articles were also published in Boyevaya Vakhta after they were cleared by military censors.

The presiding judge rejected the initial charge of espionage against Pasko, and cited prosecutors from the Federal Security Service (FSB) with unspecified violations of due process during their investigation. Pasko’s lawyers say they plan to challenge the guilty verdict in the Supreme Court, demanding a full acquittal.

Since his arrest on November 20, 1997, Pasko and his defense team have claimed the case against him was a politically motivated attempt by the military to silence him for exposing the Pacific Fleet’s illicit disposal of nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan. They further claim that all the documents he obtained for his investigation were unclassified and that all the evidence he found was in the public domain. The Soviet-style criminal investigation conducted by the Pacific Fleet’s FSB unit and the closed military trial in Vladivostok were shrouded in secrecy and marked by disdain for the defendant’s civil rights. For example, Pasko’s indictment was classified as secret, making it difficult for his attorneys to mount a proper legal defense. His lawyers were threatened with criminal prosecution for making public statements about his case.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending the universally recognized rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ strongly protests the conviction of Grigory Pasko for practicing his profession. While we are relieved that he is out of prison, we believe the guilty verdict against Pasko clearly violates his right “to seek and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fulfilling his duty as a journalist to alert the public to an issue of enormous concern, Pasko acted in full compliance with military procedure, as every document he cited was public and every image he filed was authorized by his superiors. We urge you to take the lead in calling for a review of Pasko’s conviction, and ensuring that your country’s laws guarding state secrets are no longer misused by officials to muzzle criticism.


Ann. K. Cooper
Executive Director

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His Excellency Boris Yeltsin
President of the Russian Federation
Via Fax: 011 7 095 206 5173; 206 6277