New York, February 12, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes today’s decision by the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court to nullify a controversial Ministry of Defense decree used to convict and jail Russian journalist Grigory Pasko.
Pasko was convicted of treason in December 2001 for allegedly leaking information to Japanese news outlets about the Russian Pacific Fleet’s dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan.
Decree No. 55 lists various categories of military information considered state secrets. The Military Collegium annulled the secret 1996 decree in response to a complaint filed by Pasko’s defense lawyers, who disputed its legality.
“Today’s ruling pulls the rug out from under the prosecution’s case against Grigory Pasko,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We hope the Military Collegium will overturn Pasko’s treason conviction on appeal and set him free.”
Prosecutor’s case crumbles
In December 2001, the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet found Pasko guilty of treason under Decree No. 55 and sentenced him to four years in prison. The journalist is currently serving his prison term in Vladivostok.
Today’s annulment does not apply retroactively, making the decree valid at the time of Pasko’s conviction, according to local news reports. Ivan Pavlov, one of Pasko’s lawyers, plans to file an appeal with the Military Collegium, urging the court to find Decree No. 055 invalid as of the day it was issued in 1996.
The Ministry of Defense has 10 days in which to appeal today’s decision. Meanwhile, the Military Collegium is scheduled to hear Pasko’s appeal, seeking full acquittal, in March.
On December 25, 2001, the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok found Pasko guilty of treason and sentenced him to four years in prison. The journalist was taken into custody in the courtroom and placed in detention, where he remains today.
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 awaiting trial.
In July 1999, Pasko 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 ordered a new trial. That trial began on July 11, 2001.