Grigory Pasko: Political Prisoners in Today’s Russia

Political Prisoners in Today’s Russia By Grigory Pasko, journalist Physicist Valentin Danilov Krasnoyarsk State Technical University staff member Valentin Danilov was arrested on 16 February 2001. According to story of the investigators of the regional administration of the FSB, having signed a contract with a Chinese precision engineering export-import corporation to develop a technology for use in outer space, the scientist transferred information which was a state secret to the customer. Valentin Danilov was charged with state treason under Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the RF. On 29 December 2003, a jury found Danilov not guilty on all counts. danilov2.jpg However, on 9 June 2004, the Supreme Court repealed physicist Valentin Danilov’s not guilty verdict. The case was sent back to the same court as before for a new hearing. On 24 December 2004, the Krasnoyarsk Kray Court found physicist Valentin Danilov guilty of state treason and sentenced him to 14 years of deprivation of liberty with the sentence to be served in a strict regime colony. In May 2005, the Supreme Court left the Krasnoyarsk court’s verdict in force, reducing the term of punishment from 14 to 13 years of deprivation of liberty. Lawyers filed an application with the European Court in Strasbourg. At the present time, the convicted physicist is in a penal colony in Uyarsky Rayon of Krasnoyarsk Kray. Typical story The story of the “spy” Danilov is very similar to the story of other faux-spies of recent years: Shchurov, Kaibyshev, Babkin, Sutyagin… He worked with foreign partners, received a salary from them, was charged with disclosure of a state secret. In a normal country that has rule of law, there is nothing unusual – let alone criminal – in such collaboration. In the Russia of Putin’s time, however, all of this is maniacally transformed into espionage. Had foreign partners? Foreign secret service agents! Was paid a salary? Sold his own Motherland! Worked in science? Might have known something that can be labelled secret! Danilov was accused of developing a technical assignment for a bench, and later passing on to a staff member of the Lanzhou Institute of Physics of the China Academy of Space Technology information about the presence at the Krasnoyarsk University of an «Aquagen» pulse electron accelerator, which is a bench simulator of certain factors of a nuclear explosion and is used for testing satellites for the effects of exposure to ultra-hard x-rays. The work, without a doubt, is promising and of value for the Chinese space program. The state prosecution asserts that the Chinese rocket-and-space corporation is working in the interests of the People’s Liberation Army of China. Even if you know only a little bit about Chinese history, you can still assert with total confidence that everything in the country, without exception – same as in the Soviet Union, by the way (and now in the Russia of the Putin era) – was and is being done in the interests of the army and the navy. That is, for the ability of the country to defend itself. In all such cases, there is a minimum of two key factors: who is examining the materials and how, and who is monitoring the contacts of Russian scientists with foreigners and how. A close look reveals all. Both the examining and the monitoring right on up until the case was formally opened were conducted by people either close to the FSB or directly by FSB staff. The fact is that Russian institutions of higher learning all have the so-called First Department – the department of those who work for the FSB and keep watch on the scholars, instructors, and students. It is the First Department that sanctions contacts with foreigner, and all the more so the signing of any agreements with them. To put it another way, if it turns out that a secret service was standing behind the foreign party, then it is the FSB, as represented by the First Department, that should bear the responsibility for this. This is the logic of things. But in reality they always find the guy on the outside to take the fall. In this case, Danilov turned out to be the one. I am convinced that the FSB knows full well that no special services stood behind Danilov and his contacts. They simply needed yet another case of treason to their – the KGB’s – motherland. And so they pulled out their cookie cutter and put together yet another little case, foul-smelling, clearly unconvincing, but all pre-coordinated with the procuracy and the courts. Russian human rights advocates consider Danilov a political prisoner. The authoritative human rights organization Amnesty International didn’t at first, but eventually it too declared Danilov a political prisoner. It should be noted here that there exist several points of view about who can be regarded as a political prisoner. Here is the reasoning of human rights activist Alexander Podrabinek about this: “According to one of the points of view, extremely popular today, anyone who is subjected to state repressions for activities aimed at changing the political system ought to be considered a political prisoner. Then, both those who criticized the political system in print and those who attempted to change it with methods of terror can be included among political prisoners. Following the precise meaning of the word ‘political prisoner’ (someone put in prison for politics), this definition can be acknowledged as correct”. In Podrabinek’s opinion, it is difficult to form an impartial opinion about the “spy” cases. The investigative materials are classified as “secret” and are inaccessible to the broad public; the trials take place behind closed doors; the lawyers of the defendants are not talkative and cite that they have signed non-disclosure statements. The procurators illiterately and emotionally accuse the defendants of treachery, while the defendants themselves no less emotionally attest themselves to be victims of political persecutions. I can not agree with Alexander Podrabinek that it is difficult to form an impartial opinion about the “spy” trials. All you need is desire and a yen for legal knowledge. The flagrant lawlessness in these trials is visible even with an eye unarmed with jurisprudence. Just like I can’t agree with his assertion that the defendants themselves attest themselves to be victims of political persecutions. I am acquainted with many of those who were subjected to persecutions on the part of the FSB, and can’t remember a single instance where one of them would have proclaimed himself a political prisoner. …Danilov is doing his time. Neither human rights rallies, nor protests, nor demands for a review of the case have helped. The power has learned to ignore not only the law, but public opinion as well. It is not yet possible to learn how it will react to a decision of the Strasbourg court with respect to such case: this court has not yet adopted a single decision with respect to the Russian “spy” trials.