Court rejects journalist’s appeal for travel passport

New York, July 24, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply disappointed with today’s ruling by Moscow’s Lyublinsky District Court to uphold Moscow’s Southeastern District Visa and Registration Authorities (OVIR) decision to deny a foreign passport to journalist Grigory Pasko.

Pasko was convicted of treason and sentenced to four years in prison on December 25, 2001, for intending to leak classified information to Japanese news outlets about the Russian Pacific Fleet’s dumping of nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan. Pasko was released on parole based on good behavior in January 2003 after having served two-thirds of his sentence.

On July 8, OVIR denied Pasko’s application for a foreign passport on the grounds that he was released from prison before serving his full sentence. At the time of his release, the journalist had served more than two years in prison since his ordeal began in 1997.

Ivan Pavlov, Pasko’s defense attorney, told CPJ in a telephone interview today that he plans to appeal the decision to the Moscow City Court. Under Russian law, the defense must file the appeal within 10 days.

Both Pasko and his lawyer maintain that the court’s decision contradicts Russian law, and both suspect that today’s decision is biased.

“Pasko has suffered enough,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper, “and it is troubling that he must contend with this continued harassment. We hope that the Moscow City Court will issue Grigory Pasko a foreign passport, allowing him to travel abroad.”

Pasko, an investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta, 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, the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok acquitted Pasko of treason but found him 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 verdict and ordered a new trial.

On December 25, 2001, the Military Court found Pasko guilty of treason and sentenced him to four years in prison. He was held in a temporary detention facility in Vladivostok until October 2002, when he was transferred to a penal colony in Ussuriisk, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) northeast of Vladivostok.

Pasko and his defense attorneys are seeking the reversal of the journalist’s guilty verdict and have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.