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Speaking Truth To Power

In the 1990s, Sergei Pashin was one of the most passionate advocates for true judicial reform in Russia. As a Moscow judge, he routinely threw out confessions obtained by torture, meticulously reviewed cases for signs of prosecutorial falsification, and was an unyielding supporter of jury trials.

So it should come as no surprise that he didn't last long on the bench in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Pashin is still an attorney and fortunately he still speaks out on issues near and dear to his heart.

Pashin recently signed an open letter to President Dmitry Medvedev opposing recent moves by the authorities to restrict jury trials and to redefine treason and espionage.

And in an interview published in the daily "Novye izvestia" on December 16, Pashin let it rip regarding the state of the criminal justice system in Russia.

One of the arguments the authorities made in their bid to end jury trials for crimes such as terrorism, hostage taking, rebellion, and treason, was that juries in the Caucasus tend to let criminals off the hook due to family and clan ties.

Here is Pashin's take on that:

"I toured these regions extensively more than once -- Daghestan, Ingushetia, and so on. Considering what I saw there, I cannot say that juries are idle there. Juries considered 140 cases in Daghestan alone in the last two years and convicted suspects in one of every two cases. Juries are needed to keep the Federal Security Service alert. If the secret service cannot even produce arguments that will convince a jury, then there is nothing more for me to say. And all too frequently, the secret services cannot come up with actual proof."

It's so nice to see propaganda disputed with facts. Here's Pashin's explanation for why jury trials are an absolute necessity in Russia:

"Juries know that incriminating evidence against a suspect is frequently obtained through torture, plants, and fabrications. Give law enforcement agencies any more leeway, and they'll get out of hand in no time at all."

And what about changes to the Criminal Code to broaden the definition of treason and espionage? The government submitted a bill to the State Duma on December 12 widening treason to include endangering Russia's "constitutional order, sovereignty, and territorial integrity." Likewise, the definition of espionage will be expanded to include revealing state secrets to foreign NGOs. Here's what Pashin's has to say about that:
"This article on espionage as it is formulated in the phrased in a manner that permits an extremely broad interpretation. As a matter of fact, even things that were never considered espionage in the Soviet Union may soon be under the terms of this new legislation. The term "espionage" will be no longer restricted to actions that jeopardize external security of the state. Anything that jeopardizes domestic security will be treated as espionage too, and that means practically any action."

I wrote a profile of Pashin back in 2000 when he was still a judge. After interviewing him and watching him in action in the courtroom, I came away thinking he was one of the finest Russian public servants I had ever met. But unfortunately, few people with real power listened to him then -- and sadly, even fewer do now.

-- Brian Whitmore

About This Blog

The Power Vertical
The Power Vertical

The Power Vertical is a blog written especially for Russia wonks and obsessive Kremlin watchers by Brian Whitmore. It offers Brian's personal take on emerging and developing trends in Russian politics, shining a spotlight on the high-stakes power struggles, machinations, and clashing interests that shape Kremlin policy today. Check out The Power Vertical Facebook page or


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