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Grigory Pasko: Justice Shouldn’t Wear a Military Uniform

Justice shouldn’t wear a military uniform By Grigory Pasko, journalist Recently the government of Russia introduced to the State Duma a new draft law which proposes to fundamentally change the Law “On the military courts of the RF”. Judges of military courts and of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court will no longer be members of the military service. And civilians will also start working in the back-office apparats of the military courts. It is assumed that henceforth, after the adoption of the new law, military judges and employees of the court apparats will be offered a choice: either to leave military service, or to suspend it for the duration of their term of appointment as a judge. syd031408 The military judges who judged the author of these lines in 1998-1999 (photo from the author’s archive)

It is noteworthy that the salary, medical, sanatorium-and-resort, and pharmaceutical provision for military-become-civilian judges and members of their families will be provided in the same volume as for judges of general-jurisdiction courts. In addition to this, the salary of the judges will now include all those payouts that they used to receive as members of the military service: for military rank, for length of service, for complexity, tension and special regime.I’ll start my commentary with that last point – special regime. That’s what the name is for the examination of cases associated with a state secret. Military judges get a supplement for this, just like military procurators and military investigators. That is, now do you understand why there are so many criminal cases in Russia associated with a state secret? Right! So that the representatives of all the repressive structures could have the opportunity to collect a supplement to their salaries!And now about the very idea itself. Around 20 years ago, lawyers who defended their clients in military courts first started to speak out about this. They were running up against overt and even cynical manipulation of military laws, a complete ignoring of the opinion of the defense, and the full dependence of the military courts on military superiors.I needn’t look far for an example – I’ll just refer to the case that was fabricated in relation to me. Despite obvious violations of the law, in part, during search, arrest, the drawing up of the bill of indictment, etc., the military court of the Pacific Fleet did not dismiss the case, but with maniacal persistence twice – each time during the course of eight months – conducted a shameful parody of a trial, ending with my conviction first under one, then under another, article. By the way: after the latest trial, the judge who had conducted it in the first case received a free apartment from the fleet. The second judge for the second trial received yet another military rank. No doubt these were just coincidences…It should also be noted that interviews about how the two trials were going were given out to journalists not by the judge, but by the chairman of the military court – a person who by law should not have had anything whatsoever to do with the examination of a criminal case, inasmuch as judges in Russia – if we believe what the law says – are independent. But in actuality, of course, the judges did consult with the chairman not only with respect to organizational questions of conducting a trial. My defenders were witness on numerous occasions to judges having pleasant chats about something in their chambers with procuratorial workers, although this too is prohibited by law.If the amendments to the law on military courts are adopted, then Russia will have to go further in its efforts to liberalize the military system. The fact is that in Russia there are also other ugly phenomena besides military courts. For example, military sport systems, military health professionals, military construction workers, railroad workers… In Soviet times, by the way, there existed studios of military writers and military artists.And of course, we can’t forget about yet another one of the institutions of the military system – the military press. Here is truly a vestige of the totalitarian Soviet past if ever there was one! It should certainly not exist in that form in which it does. The fact is that all over the world, journalists are non-combatants. And only in Russia could they simply send them off to war with a gun in their hands – be it the Afghan war or the Chechen. (My journalist colleagues, whom I knew or had studied with together in college, died in both the one and the other).The fact is that today’s Russian law on means of mass information is also little suitable to the realities of military journalism. And more often – is completely unsuitable. Take, just as an example, the postulate about the impermissibility of using the mass media with the objective of disclosing information comprising a state secret. It is important in this situation to remember and to understand that today – I speak about this with absolute certainty – nobody in Russia, including the state itself, knows precisely and with certainty just what exactly is a state secret from the legal point of view. There is a multitude of agency secrets, but there is no single – state – secret, enshrined in a single law, clearly worded in linguistically meaningful legal language. All the secret has been farmed out to a bunch of semi-literate people from the FSB, whom military journalists chronically fear for some reason. (At best, they quietly ignore them or do not enter into conflict with them.)The military press needs to be abolished, just like the military courts. Of course, this is unlikely to happen under president Medvedev, even if we keep in mind that he’s supposedly a jurist himself.