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Academic Freedom in Russia at Risk

(Washington, DC--January 28, 2002) An arms control expert from Russia says that academic freedom is being undermined in his country by increasingly aggressive espionage investigations and a wave of show trials against scientists and researchers by the Federal Security Service, or FSB -- the former Soviet KGB.

Pavel Podvig, a physicist working as a researcher at the Center for Arms Control, Energy and Environmental Studies in Moscow, told an RFE/RL audience last week that the series of prosecutions brought against some of Russia's most gifted scientists and analysts is feeding a culture of fear in Russian society. He said the case of defense policy analyst Igor Sutyagin, arrested and charged with treason and espionage in 1999, fit "an established pattern of the FSB" whereby someone is arrested on fabricated evidence, their family and friends are intimidated, the trial proceeds only in closed session with secret documents, and the government-controlled press reprints unfounded accusations to sway public opinion against the defendant. There are at least twelve such cases within the Russian judicial system today.

In Sutyagin's case, Podvig said, "the FSB charged him with treason claiming he was passing information about Russia", despite the fact that Sutyagin worked exclusively with open source materials available to any researcher outside of Russia. Although a Russian court decided on December 27, 2001 that the case against Sutyagin "was fabricated", Podvig said the judge refused to render a verdict and sent the case back to prosecutors for further investigation -- thereby extending Sutyagin's already two-year long imprisonment.

Podvig said that the climate of fear generated by the FSB discourages even members of the Russian Academy of Sciences from speaking out against the unwarranted prosecutions, although his employer, the Academy's Institute on the USA and Canada, has stood by Sutyagin during his ordeal. Podvig said they and other supporters lack the ability to mobilize public opinion, because "it takes a free media to report those protests." The lack of an independent media in Russia today, "combined with the peoples' growing fear," allows the FSB to continue to abuse its power in this way.