Pasko, an investigative reporter with Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch), a newspaper published by the Pacific Fleet, was convicted of treason on December 25, 2001, and sentenced to four years in prison by the Military Court of the Pacific Fleet in Vladivostok. The ruling also stripped Pasko of his military rank and state decorations.
The journalist was taken into custody in the courtroom and then jailed. Pasko’s attorney, Anatoly Pyshkin, filed an appeal with the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court seeking full acquittal.
Pasko was first arrested in November 1997 and charged with passing classified documents to Japanese news outlets. He had been reporting on environmental damage caused by the Russian navy. Pasko spent 20 months in prison while awaiting trial.
In July 1999, he 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. Pasko’s second trial began on July 11, 2001, after having been postponed three times since March.
During the trial, 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 unlawful dumping of radioactive waste. 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 was reprimanded for falsifying evidence in the first trial, and the signatures of two people who witnessed a search of the reporter’s apartment were allegedly forged.
Throughout 2001, CPJ issued numerous statements calling attention to Pasko’s ordeal, and in early June, a CPJ delegation traveled to Vladivostok before Pasko’s trial to publicize concerns over the charges.
In early 2002, in a ruling that seemed to bode well for Pasko, the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court annulled a clause of Defense Ministry Decree No. 010, a relic from the Soviet period, which prohibited “nonprofessional” contacts between Russian military personnel and foreign citizens. A CPJ delegation conducted a four-day mission to Vladivostok and Moscow in early March 2002 to meet with Pasko supporters, politicians, and government officials to discuss the case but was prevented from visiting Pasko.
At the same time, the Military Collegium nullified Defense Ministry Decree No. 055 after Pasko’s lawyers had filed a complaint challenging its legality. This decree listed various categories of military information as state secrets. Three months later, however, the Appeals Board of the Supreme Court reinstated the decree.
Pasko was held in a temporary detention facility in Vladivostok until October 2002, when he was transferred to a prison, as required by Russian law. On January 23, 2003, a court in the city of Ussuriisk, in the Russian Far East, granted Pasko parole. He was released immediately and traveled to his home in Vladivostok.
Under Russian law, Pasko, who had served two-thirds of his four-year sentence, was eligible for parole based on good behavior. State prosecutors are contemplating protesting the parole decision, Russian and international news reported.
Pasko and his defense attorneys plan to seek the reversal of the journalist’s guilty verdict. According to Russian news reports, Pasko’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov said a petition has already been filed with the chairman of the Russian Supreme Court and should be heard in February 2003. “We are going to work to achieve the full exoneration of my good name. We’re going to do everything to ensure that this criminal case is recognized as falsification,” said Pasko, following his release, according to The Associated Press.