Vladivostok, 21 January 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Prosecutors in Russia's Far Eastern city of Vladivostok began laying out a treason case today in a military court against journalist Grigorii Pasko.
Pasko is a Navy captain and journalist who provided Japanese media with information on alleged environmental abuses by Russia's Pacific Fleet. He is officially charged with espionage and revealing state secrets.
Pasko's trial has been compared to that of Aleksandr Nikitin, a Saint Petersburg Navy captain and environmentalist who has been charged with treason for contributing to a Norwegian environmental group's report on the dumping of nuclear waste at sea.
In both cases PEN International, the writers and editors association provided an attorney, and now Amnesty International is championing the two men. Earlier this week, Amnesty International identified Pasko as a "prisoner of conscience", saying he is being held in detention and prosecuted "solely for the peaceful exercise of his right to freedom of expression".
Our Vladivostok correspondent reports that Pasko was visibly agitated as he left the court filled with agents of the Federal Security Service (FSB), the successor to the KGB.
Pasko and his lawyer, Anatoly Pyshkin, indicated they had low expectations for a fair trial in the military court. Pyshkin noted that the court refused to release Pasko after the first trial was suspended in October. He also referred to subsequent attempts to prevent Pasko from obtaining qualifying documents for a recent failed race for a City Duma seat.
Prosecutors plan to finish reading the case tomorrow and begin calling witnesses from "Boyevaya Vakhta," a newspaper where Pasko worked as an editor and reporter.
Prosecutors and the military judge, Dmitry Savushkin, have refused to speak to the press on the case.
Viktor Kondratov, President Boris Yeltsin's regional representative and a FSB general, said the case has nothing to do with Pasko's environmental activities.
Pasko came under suspicion in November 1997 when customs officials seized documents from him as he was heading for Japan. When he returned a few days later, he was arrested. His lawyers have noted that Pasko willingly came home even though his papers had been seized -- which they say is an indication he was innocent. And they insist the records he provided to the Japanese were public.
A Vladivostok military journalist, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent that Russia has an enormous backlog of documents that haven't been declassified since the Soviet era, even though the information they contain has already been made public. The journalist said Pasko's documents could have been of this type.
Pasko's trial opened in October but was immediately suspended. The matter was referred to the Supreme Court, which ordered Pasko to remain behind bars.
Since his arrest, Pasko has sued NHK, a Japanese station he was free-lancing for, claiming they used some materials without his permission. NHK disputes that charge. Although it has a bureau in Vladivostok, NHK has never sent reporters to cover the trial.
Yury Maksimenko, a representative of the Veterans of the Fleet Council who was permitted to sit in on the trial, said the case was flawed. He said: "there are so many assumptions, and not much proof." He added that prosecutors "keep saying that Pasko sold information, but this is what every journalist does."
As the hearing began, Pasko's wife, Galina Morozova, was expelled from the courtroom. Morozova has been limited to one visit a month with her husband. Amnesty International, citing Pasko's lawyers, have expressed concern about his deteriorating health and said he has not been receiving adequate medical treatment.
Reporters have been unable to talk to Pasko except in passing. Eduard Vorotnikov, a Vladivostok television reporter, said he believes the Pasko case has worrying implications for other Russian journalists.
(Russell Working is a regular contributor to RFE/RL, based in Vladivostok. Nonna Chernyakova contributed to this report.)