CPJ calls for justice in trial of journalist Grigory Pasko

The fact that the trial is being conducted in a secret military court calls into question the impartiality of the entire proceeding.

New York, October 23, 2001—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disturbed by the second trial of Russian journalist Grigory Pasko, which is scheduled to recommence in the Vladivostok Military Court on October 29. Local CPJ sources report that a verdict is expected within weeks.

Pasko, who is charged with treason and revealing state secrets to Japanese news outlets, faces 12 to 20 years in prison if convicted. The journalist maintains that he revealed no classified material, and that he was prosecuted for publicizing environmental hazards at the Pacific Fleet’s facilities.

“Governments should never try to silence or punish journalists for reporting on matters of clear public interest,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Authorities must conclude this case in accordance with Russian law and international norms, which should lead to a Grigory Pasko’s full aquittal.”

A baseless and flawed trial
Pasko’s new trial began on July 11 after having been postponed three times since March. His defense has shown that the proceedings lack any basis in Russian law. Article 7 of the Federal Law on State Secrets, which stipulates that information about environmental dangers cannot be classified, protects Pasko’s work on sensitive issues, such as radioactive pollution. The prosecution is apparently relying on a secret Military of Defense decree (No. 055) even though the Russian Constitution bars the use of secret legislation in criminal cases.

The fact that the trial is being conducted in a secret military court also calls into question the impartiality and independence of the entire proceeding. So-called independent experts who testified about whether documents allegedly seized at Pasko’s apartment were classified or not were all closely associated with the Federal Security Service (FSB).

Moreover, several of the 53 witnesses claim that the FSB falsified their statements or tried to persuade them to give false testimony in the case. An FSB investigator had been reprimanded for falsifying evidence in the first trial, and the signatures of two people who witnessed a search of the reporter’s apartment were forged.

Pasko, an investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch), a newspaper published by the Pacific Fleet, was arrested in November 1997 and charged with passing classified documents to Japanese news outlets. He spent 20 months in prison while awaiting trial. In July 1999, he was acquitted of treason but found guilty of abusing his authority as an officer. He was immediately amnestied, but four months later the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court canceled the Vladivostok court’s verdict and called for new hearings.