A Moscow court is due today to hold a hearing in the case of Edmund Pope, a U.S. businessman accused of espionage and held in a Moscow prison since April. RFE/RL's Correspondent Lisa McAdams reports that in the days leading up to the hearing, Pope's family and two U.S. Congressmen again appealed for his immediate and unconditional release.
Washington, 11 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian court today (Monday) is slated to hear the appeal of Edmund Pope, the jailed U.S. businessman Russia accuses of spying.
If convicted, the 53-year old Pope faces jail time of 10 to 20 years for spying, and four to seven years for disclosing state secrets. In advance of the hearing, two U.S. congressmen and Pope's family made a last-minute appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Congressman John Peterson (R-Pennsylvania) told a Washington news conference last Friday that the Pennsylvania businessman has been wrongly held in a Russian prison since last April, falsely accused of spying. Peterson said no U.S. agency, from the State Department to Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), says Pope is anything other than what he claims to be -- a former naval intelligence officer turned independent businessman.
Pope's lawyers are now appealing for his immediate release on medical grounds, saying Pope suffers from a rare form of bone cancer that requires continuous medical care. U.S. officials from President Bill Clinton on down have said Russia is denying Pope that care and they want to see something done about it. So too does Pope's wife Sherry, who, accompanied by the couple's two sons to the Friday press conference, spoke through tears:
"Today I found out that in the Lefortovo prison another prisoner died and that my husband was even more emotionally fragile than he was before. Please let him get some medical care in there for him and please, please let him go."
Sherry Pope was allowed to see her husband just over a week ago, but says she was blocked from bringing him much-needed prescription medicine and a blanket. She also said no one she knows or has been in contact with at home or abroad expects her husband to get a free trial and that if the issue has to be solved at the highest-levels politically then, in her words, "so be it."
Congressman Peterson said Presidents Clinton and Putin discussed Pope's case most recently on the sidelines of the UN Millennium Summit in New York. But Peterson said nothing was resolved and that from the U.S. view there can be only one resolution:
"We don't care how it's resolved except that Ed needs to come home. Ed doesn't belong in a Russian prison for 20 years in no way, shape, or form. But he needs to come home, he needs immediate health care, or it's all going to be academic."
By saying it would be academic, Peterson meant to convey his and many others' view that if Pope does not get health care soon, there will not even be a trial, because Pope will be dead. Peterson also said it was his view American-Russian relations will suffer a loss: "If this is not resolved timely in my view, as a member of Congress who has always been friendly towards working and becoming friends with the Russians, this will set back Russian-American relations for years. It will set back American businessmen being willing to invest and do partnerships."
Senior officials at the U.S. State Department also have expressed great concern about potential fall-out for the American business community in Russia, specifically how and even if the U.S. can ensure other Americans' well-being and safety.
Congressman Greg Walden, a Republican from Oregon, represents the district where Pope's parents live. He told the press conference that Russia -- by way of the Pope case -- sends a chilling message to the American and international business community:
"If Russia intends to return to a position of world leadership, it must abandon the kind of third-world mentality that has allowed Mr. Pope to be treated so poorly. Providing prisoners' access to appropriate medical treatment is the very minimum that should be expected of a civilized nation. Maintaining the force of secret police to arrest people and hold them without trial is certainly not a sign of a healthy democracy. Locking prisoners away without access to the medical treatment they need is a sign of a society that lacks respect for human rights."
Walden also said he found it ironic that his state of Oregon had taken in children with severe medical problems from the former Soviet Union over the years and assisted them with their problems before returning them home. Walden queried if it was asking too much now that the Putin government gives Pope the minimum access to medical care that his condition demands.
Congressman Peterson put it another way, saying "this is Russia's chance to 'get it right,' and to send a message to America that Russia will be fair about human rights."
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov recently said there were no new circumstances that would permit the government to order Pope's release. Participants of this latest press conference appeal hope they have provided adequate impetus.