Vladivostok, June 4, 2001 — The postponement Monday of a new trial against Russian environmental journalist Grigory Pasko was denounced by his defense team and CPJ representatives in front of the Vladivostok courthouse and at a later press conference.
Defense lawyer Anatoly Pishkin said the delay was an attempt by Pacific Ocean Fleet prosecutors “to erode the stamina and resources of Pasko’s supporters.” Military authorities have been pursuing the investigative reporter for nearly four years on charges of espionage and revealing state secrets.
A CPJ delegation visiting Vladivostok to observe the proceedings also criticized the court’s action. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” declared CPJ board member Peter Arnett to reporters assembled outside the military courthouse in downtown Vladivostok. Europe program consultant Emma Gray told a later press conference that CPJ would continue to monitor the case, which the organization believes is part of a campaign by Russian authorities to silence its press critics.
Contrary to Russian law, prosecutors failed to appear at court to request the postponement. Instead, a printed notice on an inner door of the courthouse announced that the case was postponed until June 20. Military police blocking the entrance to the court told CPJ that the postponement was “for family reasons.”
“I’m tired of this process. I want this disgraceful case to end as soon as possible,” Grigory Pasko told the press conference. “Everyone already knows that there are no spies and no crimes in this affair.”
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.
CPJ believes Pasko’s case is part of a pattern of increasing intimidation of Russian journalists who reveal official corruption or incompetence, and that the outcome could have far-reaching consequences. Pasko told CPJ: “If I fail to win this case it could cause great harm to other journalists. There are many courageous journalists in Russia and victory in my case would demonstrate that they can work without fear of the KGB (secret police) or prison.”
CPJ STATEMENTS AT VLADIVOSTOK PRESS CONFERENCE ON BEHALF OF GRIGORY PASKO
I’m Emma Gray, the Europe Program consultant for CPJ, and I am here to support Grigory Pasko and his long search for justice in Russia.
My organization, CPJ, is a nongovernmental committee funded entirely by journalists, media organizations, and foundation grants. CPJ accepts no government money of any kind. Our mission is to fight for the right of journalists around the world to report the news freely, without fear of reprisal.
The CPJ staff daily monitors the working conditions of journalists all over the world and puts out regular bulletins on abuses of the press. In special cases such as this one involving the persecution of Grigory Pasko, we send delegations to the scene to express solidarity with the victim.
I bring a message today from the executive director of CPJ, Ann Cooper.
She says the Pasko case “is a litmus test of how far the Russian government is prepared to go to silence journalists. We believe that Grigory Pasko’s reports exposing environmental hazards were in the public interest, and that he should be fully acquitted of the charges against him.”
Anne Cooper adds, ” In defending Grigory Pasko and standing beside him as his second trial is about to get under way, we are demonstrating our solidarity with all Russian journalists who speak out on issues of public concern.”
I would point out that this year CPJ named President Putin one of the ten worst enemies of the press. This is a title that we are reluctant to give, but in the case of the Russian leader we feel it is richly deserved because of his campaign of intimidation against the media.
With me today is CPJ board member Peter Arnett who over the past several years has made similar missions for our committee to Angola, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
Mr. Arnett reported for the Associated Press and CNN over the past 40 years, during which he covered 18 wars including those in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Chechnya.
It is a privilege to be with you all here today, and in particular to stand beside Grigory Pasko and his legal team in this fight for freedom of the press.
I have gotten to know Grigory, his family and some of his supporters here and in Moscow over the past few days, and I must say I am impressed by their determination to fight this case and win.
Grigory himself has produced extremely important journalism, exposing serious environmental hazards that can affect the whole world. His unwavering determination to stand by his reports and fight to prove his professional integrity is a fine example not only to his Russian colleagues, but to colleagues around the world. Grigory’s work is what fine investigative journalism really means.
I watched with interest in the late 1980s as glasnost developed in the former Soviet Union. Then with the fall of authoritarian rule and the establishment of a democratic Russia, there came the 1991 Law on Mass Media. Freedom of the press had arrived in Russian and a new day for free expression had arrived.
Journalists around the world are hoping that this new day will not become night, and that press freedoms are not seriously curtailed in Russia.
This will be bad not only for Russians at home, but Russia’s reputation abroad will be harmed. This will have a negative effect on investment, on tourism, on international goodwill. Russian’s progress as a nation will be damaged if freedom of the press is damaged.
That is why supporting journalist Grigory Pasko against the unwarranted state charges against him is necessary on many different levels.
This is a case that Pasko must win if Russia is to fully enter the family of nations.