Pasko espionage trial under way at last

The prosecution plans to call more than 50 witnesses. Perhaps five of them have any real connection to the case, Pasko says.

New York, July 11, 2001—The second trial of Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko finally began today in Vladivostok, nearly four years after his arrest on charges of espionage and revealing state secrets.

Having been postponed three times since March, the trial started on time at 10 a.m. at the Pacific Fleet Military Courthouse, defense lawyer Anatoly Pyshkin told CPJ. In contrast to Pasko’s first trial, the three judges wore black robes instead of military uniforms. Although most of the trial will be secret, journalists were allowed in the courtroom for initial proceedings in which the charges were read out and petitions heard.

The judges will convene two new expert panels to examine the evidence against Pasko, Pyshkin said. One panel will evaluate Russian intelligence (FSB) wiretap recordings of Pasko’s phone conversations. The second panel, comprising specialists from the Russian ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and Atomic Energy, will determine whether or not the government documents that Pasko released to Japanese media outlets were in fact classified.

The court will also call three Japanese journalists to testify: two from the Vladivostok bureau of the NHK television company and one from the newspaper Asahi.

Pasko told CPJ that the prosecution plans to call more than 50 witnesses. “Perhaps five of them have any real connection with this case,” Vladivostok newspapers quoted the journalist as saying.

“Grigory Pasko has now endured four years of persecution, 20 months in jail, and three trial postponements,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on Russian judicial authorities to complete the trial swiftly and with respect for due process.”

After the lunch break, the trial continued in secret. Pasko spoke in his own defense, saying that his journalistic activity was not a crime. “I feel good, glad that we’ve started,” he told CPJ in a telephone interview after the first day of hearings concluded. “I want this to be over, and I am convinced of our victory.”

The trial continues on Thursday, but Pasko’s lawyers predict that the case could take many months to conclude.

Pasko was an investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta, a newspaper published by the 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 had 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 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.