Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 140

The long ordeal of a Russian naval journalist accused of passing military secrets to the Japanese came to a happy conclusion yesterday when a military court in Vladivostok found him innocent of treason and espionage charges. Captain Grigory Pasko was, however, found guilty by the Pacific Military Court of having abused his military status for personal gain and of having violated the interests of society and the state. Although Pasko was given a three-year prison sentence for those transgressions, he was immediately amnestied under the terms of a bill signed into law last month by President Boris Yeltsin. Pasko had already been in custody for some nineteen months when his sentence was handed down, and was eligible for the amnesty both because he was a first-time offender and because he had served more than a third of his three-year sentence. Pasko now has seven days to decide whether to appeal his conviction on the lesser charges.

Although the suspended three-year prison sentence tainted yesterday’s proceeding, Pasko’s acquittal on the more serious espionage and treason charges nevertheless represented a victory for human rights advocates in Russia and abroad. Of equal importance, yesterday’s decision was a defeat for Russian military and security service authorities, who were seeking a twelve-year prison sentence for Pasko. Pacific Fleet Judge Dmitry Savushkin found that much of the evidence against Pasko had been gathered unlawfully by investigators. Two of the documents submitted by the Federal Security Service (FSB), moreover, were said by the judge to have been falsified. Pasko and his defense team had long accused the government of fabricating the charges against him.

Pasko was arrested in November 1997 following his return from a trip to Japan. Prosecutors alleged that the crusading Russian navy journalist, who had made a career out of exposing the Pacific Fleet’s nuclear-waste dumping practices, was guilty of having handed ten classified documents to a Japanese television network and of having divulged information about the combat readiness of the fleet. Pasko denied the allegations and charged that the FSB was in fact looking to punish him for reports on the fleet’s dumping practices that he did for Japanese television. Pasko’s plight–he served nineteen months under abysmal prison conditions while the authorities pursued the charges against him–caught the attention of international human rights groups in Russia and abroad. He was declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International (AP, BBC, Anchorage Daily News; July 20).