Journalist Grigory Pasko faces second espionage trial

New York, March 21, 2001 ­ The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the ongoing legal persecution of Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko, whose second trial on espionage charges begins tomorrow in a closed Vladivostok military court.

Pasko worked for Boyevaya Vakhta, a newspaper owned by the Pacific Fleet. On November 20, 1997, he was arrested for providing two Japanese news outlets with information about nuclear waste dumping by the Russian Navy in the Sea of Japan. His articles were also published in Boyevaya Vakhta after being cleared by military censors.

Pasko was charged with high treason and revealing state secrets. He spent 20 months in prison awaiting his first trial, also before a closed military tribunal in Vladivostok. On July 20, 1999, Pasko was acquitted of the original charges but sentenced to three years of prison on the lesser charge of abusing his authority as a naval officer.

Pasko was then freed under an amnesty that the Russian Duma had announced earlier in 1999 for prisoners convicted of so-called less dangerous crimes. The presiding judge cited prosecutors from the Federal Security Service (FSB) for unspecified violations of due process during their investigation.

On November 21, 2000, the military section of the Supreme Court annulled the July 1999 ruling, calling it “incomplete, biased and ill-founded,” the Moscow Times reported. The court then announced its intention to send the case back to the Vladivostok military court to be heard again by different judges. If convicted, Pasko could face at least eight years in prison.

“This trial is clearly a politically-motivated attempt to silence Pasko,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Rather than prosecuting individuals who pose a real threat to their country, Russian officials are squandering scarce national resources in pursuit of a journalist who did nothing more than his professional duty.”