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Interview: Sutyagin's Father Says News Of Exchange Was 'Like A Cold Shower'

Igor Sutyagin, who has always maintained his innocence, in Moscow City Court in 2004

Igor Sutyagin, who has always maintained his innocence, in Moscow City Court in 2004

MOSCOW -- Former arms-control researcher Igor Sutyagin is one of the four Russian prisoners being exchanged for 10 suspected members of a Russian spy ring.

A former employee of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute for the U.S.A. and Canada, Sutyagin was arrested in 1999 and accused of treason and espionage for selling information on nuclear submarines and missile-warning systems to a British company that prosecutors claimed was a front for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Sutyagin was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to 14 years in prison, but has maintained his innocence since, saying that he could not have committed espionage since he did not have access to state secrets.

Earlier this week, Sutyagin was transferred from a remote penal colony near the Arctic Circle to Moscow's Lefortovo prison before being exchanged for the Russian agents. Aleksei Sobachkin of RFE/RL's Russian Service spoke to Sutyagin's father, Vyacheslav, about his son.

RFE/RL: What do you think about what has happened?

Vyacheslav Sutyagin:
If we quote the foolish thesis of our president, "Freedom is better than no freedom," then of course freedom is better than no freedom. But the thesis is questionable because a good name is more important than imaginary freedom.

RFE/RL: In your opinion, why did Igor admit his guilt now?

He had no choice. He was told post factum and that's it. He filed a petition for parole, the district court rejected him. The regional court didn't even consider its merits. They just rejected it.

Preparations were made for an appeal against the regional court in the Supreme Court, but it was supposed to take place around July 20 but we didn't have time. We wanted to follow to the logical end the process for parole.

By law, there shouldn't be any conditions, you served two-thirds of a term you have a right to parole by law. He had simply brilliant references, I read the references.

Nevertheless, the court told him that he had not got on the path of correction. He asked: "What did I have to do to get on the path of correction?" What kind of serious violations of the camp regime were found like crumbs in a dresser drawer, for example. Or that he did not come out of the bath with the orderly, and by himself. And there were plenty of those kind of violations.

RFE/RL: How did Igor take the news that he was being exchanged for Russian spies?

To him it was like a thunderbolt out of nowhere or a cold shower. He didn't expect it.

He was in the camp, concreting over some kind of hole, doing domestic chores, when he was told: "Get your things together quick, a car will come for you. There is an order from Moscow and you will be escorted." The car came, they threw his belongings in, and drove him there.

We did not know anything about it. We called the camp so as to clarify whether there were any problems, because we planned to have a short meeting [with him] on [July 11], we'd already bought tickets. And they told us that he was urgently escorted to Moscow. And only in the evening were we called and told that he was in Lefortovo and that you can come to visit him.

The next morning we went to Lefortovo. During the two days that he was transferred, he lost a lot of weight. And he was depressed because he was asked to sign a document in which one of the points was a full confession that he was guilty which he has refused to do for 11 years. How can you not be down? It is is villainy.

What the KGB men have sought for 11 years, they have now offered him now. There was no choice. Either you sign this, or you know what kind of life awaits you. And what kind of life he has known for 11 years. There was no choice, that's why he was down. He was forced into signing the paper.