CPJ denounces third postponement in Pasko trial

New York, June 19, 2001 — The espionage trial of Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko has been postponed yet again, according to the Itar-Tass news agency and CPJ sources in Vladivostok. CPJ denounces these delays, which are clearly intended to exhaust Pasko’s legal defense.

Military authorities have been pursuing the investigative reporter for nearly four years on charges of espionage and revealing state secrets.

The Pacific Fleet’s military court in Vladivostok was scheduled to begin its second trial against Pasko on June 4, but it was postponed until June 20 due to the prosecutor’s “family obligations.” The opening of the trial has now been postponed a third time, until July 11.

The presiding judge informed Anotoly Pyshkin, one of Pasko’s defense lawyers, of the latest postponement but did not provide an explanation.

“The decision to prolong, yet again, the politically-motivated case against Grigory Pasko is a clear example of how the Russian government uses its legal system to silence independent journalists who uncover official corruption and mismanagement,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “We will stand by Pasko until the government’s Kafkaesque case against him has been closed and he has been fully exonerated.”

A CPJ delegation visited Vladivostok in early June to observe the trial. After the first postponement was announced, CPJ board member Peter Arnett and Europe program consultant Emma Gray held a press conference in Vladivostok to protest the delay and support Pasko.

Pasko was an investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta, a newspaper owned by Russia’s Pacific Fleet. He was arrested on November 20, 1997, and accused of passing classified documents to the Japanese television network NHK. Pasko maintained that he passed no classified material, and that he was prosecuted for working with Japanese news outlets that publicized environmental hazards at the Pacific Fleet’s facilities.

The journalist spent 20 months in prison awaiting trial. On July 20, 1999, he was acquitted of treason, but was found guilty of abusing his authority as an officer. He received a three-year sentence but was released under an amnesty program.

His ordeal did not end there, however. On November 21, 2000, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court cancelled the lower court’s verdict and called for new hearings. Pasko faces a sentence of 12 to 20 years in prison if convicted.