Moscow, March 7, 2002—Three representatives of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) today completed a four-day mission to Russia with an urgent call for the release of jailed Russian journalist Grigory Pasko.
“We are here to support our Russian colleagues in attempting to free Grigory Pasko, and to halt what seems to be an increasingly heavy-handed attempt to crush the development of a free press in Russia,” said Terry Anderson, CPJ’s honorary co-chairman, at a press conference in Moscow.
Anderson, CPJ Europe program coordinator Alex Lupis, and CPJ Europe researcher Olga Tarasov met with Pasko supporters and government officials in Vladivostok on Monday, but were denied permission to meet with Pasko himself. On Tuesday, March 5, the CPJ delegation traveled to Moscow and met with Aleksandr Tkachenko, head of the PEN Center in Moscow; Naum Nim, editor-in-chief of the Index on Censorship; and Pasko’s defense attorney Anatoly Pyshkin, who was visiting from Vladivostok.
The following day, Wednesday, the CPJ delegation held meetings with Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the Yabloko faction in the Russian Duma, Boris Nemtsov, head of the Union of Right Forces faction in the Duma; and Dmitry Muratov, editor of the thrice-weekly Novaya Gazeta. Discussions focused on deteriorating press freedom conditions in Russia and Pasko’s pending appeal with the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court.
Pasko, a naval officer and investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch), a newspaper published by the Russian 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, 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.
During the second trial in late 2001, Pasko’s defense argued that the proceedings lacked a 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. And the prosecution relied on a secret Ministry of Defense decree (No. 055), although the Russian Constitution bars the use of secret legislation in criminal cases.
The defense also challenged the veracity of many of the witnesses, several of whom acknowledged that the Federal Security Service (FSB) falsified their statements or tried to persuade them to give false testimony. 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.
In mid-February, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court nullified two Defense Ministry decrees used to convict Pasko on December 25, 2001.