On July 2, the brother of Siberian scientist Dmitry Kolker filed a complaint with the Federal Security Service (FSB) protesting his brother’s arrest two days earlier at a Novosibirsk cancer clinic where he was being treated for late-stage pancreatic cancer. In his appeal, he wrote that Kolker’s transfer to Moscow could be fatal.
But at the moment the appeal was sent, Kolker was already dead.
The scientist’s family received a terse official telegram dated July 2 (below) informing them that Kolker, 54, had died in the early morning hours after being transferred from Lefortovo, the notorious FSB pretrial prison in Moscow, to a local hospital.
“The FSB murdered my father,” Kolker’s son, Maksim Kolker, wrote on the Russian social media site VK in a post that has since been made private. “Fully aware of the condition he was in, they dragged him from the hospital…. They didn’t even allow him to say goodbye to his family. I hope Investigator Morozov, the Novosibirsk judge, and the entire state machine will be held responsible for their actions.
“It only took you two days to kill a man, and now my family is left without a father,” he wrote.
When agents of the investigative department of the Moscow FSB show up, no one is going to ask whether the person wants to go with them or not.”-- Lawyer Aleksandr Fedulov
Five days after receiving the telegram, Kolker’s family still had no further information and no news on when Kolker’s body will be returned to them.
“It is very difficult to communicate with Lefortovo,” Kolker’s lawyer, Aleksandr Fedulov, told RFE/RL. “They don’t respond on principle. They don’t say anything over the phone. When you speak to them in person, they tell you to talk to the investigator. But the investigator doesn’t respond to any messages.”
Fedulov has filed requests with the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN), the Prosecutor-General’s Office, and the Investigative Committee requesting Kolker’s passport and his remains. He has received no response.
“Most likely, we’ll have to write a tearful letter to the presidential administration asking them to get involved,” he added.
Kolker, who held numerous patents and was the director of the Laboratory of Quantum Optics at Novosibirsk State University -- a major Russian scientific center -- was being investigated on suspicion of treason for purportedly sharing state secrets with China. The accusations stem from a series of lectures he gave in China in 2018 as part of an exchange between the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAN) and Chinese scholars.
Kolker’s son asserts the texts of Kolker’s lectures were approved in advance by the FSB.
Kolker was charged with “state treason,” which carries a possible 20-year prison term, compared to the relatively mild charge of “revealing state secrets,” which is punishable by up to four years in prison.
Another scientist, 75-year-old Anatoly Maslov of the Institute of Theoretical and Practical Mechanics of the Siberian branch of the RAN, was also reportedly arrested in connection with the case and is also believed to be in Lefortovo.
Everyone who participated in the development of such a case will get a career boost."-- Lawyer Ivan Pavlov
At the time of Kolker’s arrest, he was in extremely fragile health, being fed intravenously and heavily sedated.
Fedulov said the family will seek an explanation of how Kolker was discharged, since he was incapable of signing himself out.
“I will ask the hospital about this, but I understand that they had no real possibility of not releasing him or doing anything else,” he said. “When agents of the investigative department of the Moscow FSB show up, no one is going to ask whether the person wants to go with them or not.”
Fedulov added that he is “90 percent” certain that no medical personnel accompanied Kolker on the three- to four-hour flight back to Moscow.
Officials at the medical center did not respond to RFE/RL’s requests for comment.
Human right activist Marina Litvinovich wrote on Facebook that the court in Novosibirsk had no right to authorize Kolker’s arrest when he was so ill.
She accused investigators of pursuing the case solely for careerist reasons because “each year they have to submit a specific number of cases of ‘state treason’ or ‘espionage.’”
Russian lawyer Ivan Pavlov, who specialized in such cases before fleeing Russia under state pressure in September 2021, offered a similar assessment.
“Everyone who participated in the development of such a case will get a career boost,” Pavlov told RFE/RL.
Pavlov added that the judge in Novosibirsk who sanctioned Kolker’s arrest had no choice in the matter.
“We are talking about the Federal Security Service. The chekists don’t ask, they demand,” he said, using a Soviet-era term for security agents. “Our judges have long been prisoners of the FSB.”
His prediction about how the case will develop was dour.
“Most likely, they will blame the defense lawyers for not requesting time to present the medical information,” he said. “Or they will blame the doctors who were forced to discharge him. But not one chekist will be punished. On the contrary, they will be promoted.”
Activists say that under President Vladimir Putin, a longtime Soviet KGB officer who headed the FSB in 1998-99, scientists have frequently been targeted with trumped-up treason charges that are based on aboveboard international scholarly cooperation or the sharing of open-source information.
The July 1 club, which comprises dozens of members and corresponding members of the RAN, issued an open letter protesting the government’s handling of Kolker’s case and calling for “all those guilty of the death of our colleague” to be prosecuted.
The group also published a 2018 report by the RAN affirming that Kolker’s lectures “do no contain any restricted information” that could be considered state secrets.