Vladivostok, March 4, 2002 —Three representatives from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) called for the release of jailed Russian journalist Grigory Pasko at a press conference in Vladivostok today.
A CPJ request to meet with Pasko in prison was turned down by a local military official, who said the request would be given a written response only within the next month. Pasko is serving a four-year sentence for treason.
“Grigory Pasko’s imprisonment will continue to be an embarrassment to the image of the Russian government until it is resolved, justice is done and Pasko is free,” said Terry Anderson, honorary co-chair of the CPJ board of directors, during the press conference at Vladivostok’s Press Development Institute. [Read Terry Anderson’s full statement]
After arriving in Vladivostok on Sunday, March 3, Anderson, CPJ Europe program coordinator Alex Lupis, and CPJ Europe researcher Olga Tarasov met with Sergei Ivashchenko, head of the local Committee for the Defense of Grigory Pasko, as well as with other Pasko supporters.
Today, the CPJ delegation held meetings with Ivan Rimkunas, head of the Military Collegium of the Pacific Fleet; Sergei Zhekov, head of the Regional Legislative Assembly; and James Schumaker, United States Consul General in Vladivostok. Discussions in these meetings focused on Pasko’s pending appeal before the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court.
CPJ Delegation Denied Access to Pasko
Also this morning, the delegation submitted a written request to the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet, in person and in accordance with military procedures, to meet with Pasko during their visit to Vladivostok.
Sergei Volkov, head of the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet, refused to meet with the delegation to discuss the request and stated, through an intermediary, that he would respond to the request in writing within the next month.
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 on treason charges 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 demonstrated 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. The prosecution relied on a secret Ministry of Defense decree (No. 055) even though 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 in convicting Pasko on December 25, 2001. The conviction is on appeal before the Military Collegium.
We are here to support our Russian colleagues and the Russian people in their struggle to establish a free and prosperous society.
We are speaking on behalf of Mr. Grigory Pasko because he is a fine journalist unjustly imprisoned; and because his case is emblematic of a disturbing current in Russia and elsewhere – the constant attempt to crush a developing free press whenever it threatens those who break the law; those who misuse the power given to them by the people to satisfy their own greed.
Mr. Pasko has done nothing wrong. He has done nothing, and intended nothing, that is not in keeping with his oath as an officer, and with the highest principles and high purpose of his profession as a journalist. He has done nothing, in fact, not in accordance with the orders and wishes of his direct superior officers, who assigned him his duties.
The Russian courts have already, and in the clearest terms, ruled that those who are attempting to persecute Mr. Pasko have resorted to false evidence and perjury.
The Russian Supreme Court has ruled that the secret decree used to convict him is unconstitutional. The courts have further stated without qualification that Mr. Pasko has never revealed national security secrets, and has never threatened the security of the state.
What has, in fact, Mr. Pasko done? He has discovered and revealed what seem to be blatant violations of Russian and international law, violations that threaten the health of the Russian people. Mr. Pasko should be commended, not prosecuted. It is those who committed those violations who should be prosecuted.
The case against Grigory Pasko is ridiculous, and clearly just an attempt to silence the truth.
This case is far from the only such attempt in recent years here. And that is a disturbing trend.
President Putin himself has said that a free press is necessary to the establishment of a free society in Russia. It is a basic historical law that you cannot have a free society without a free press. And it has become widely recognized in recent decades around the world that a country that infringes on the human rights of its citizens hinders its own development.
Those who might otherwise wish to invest in and aid this great country are discouraged from doing so by attacks on the press. And the Russian people themselves are discouraged in their hope that Russia will become both free and economically successful.
The imprisonment of Mr. Pasko is unjust, cruel and wrong. It is an embarrassment to a government which says it wants an open society, which claims to value human rights. And it will continue to be an embarrassment to the image of the Russian government until it is resolved, justice is done and Grigory Pasko is free.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and other international and Russian human rights organizations intend to continue pursuing this case, and the cases of others who are being persecuted for telling the truth. I repeat, you cannot have a free society without a free press.