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Russian Arms-Control Expert Wins Case At Strasbourg Rights Court

Igor Sutyagin in a Moscow City Court room in April 2004
One of four Russians freed from prison last year in the biggest East-West "spy swap" since the Cold War has won his case against the Russian government at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The Strasbourg court today ordered the government of Russia to pay 20,000 euros ($29,600) to Igor Sutyagin, an arms-control expert and nuclear weapons specialist who was convicted on espionage charges in 2004 and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see ECHR ruling here).

Sutyagin was released in July 2010 as part of a prisoner swap with the United States under which 10 alleged Russian spies were returned to Moscow. He has maintained that he never had access to classified information, although he signed an admission of guilt as part of the prisoner swap.

Speaking to RFE/RL after the verdict, Sutyagin said he didn't know if he'll have to return to Russia to collect his compensation.

"I don't know how the money will be paid. You can never be sure that it'll be paid at all, since I know there are many precedents in which the European Court is already considering appeals about the nonfulfillment of its decisions," Sutyagin said.

"Although, on the other hand, lately I've heard that Russia is rather precisely paying such compensation, looking on it as a sort of tax for its lawlessness."

The ECHR ruled that Sutyagin's right to a speedy trial had been violated because he was held in remand custody for nearly 4 1/2 years without proper justification.

It further found that his right to an impartial trial had been violated because his case was transferred from one judge to another without any explanation.

The court ruled that the failure to provide an explanation "objectively justified" Sutyagin's contention that the Russian court was not independent and impartial.

The court rejected Sutyagin's contention that there were irregularities in the way evidence was handled and witnesses were examined.

Slow Wheels Of Justice

Sutyagin's case has been notable for its glacial pace. The charges that he had provided classified information to agents working for the United States were originally filed in October 1999, and he was placed in remand prison at that time.

He sent his appeal to the ECHR in 2002, two years before his trial in Russia finally ended. The Strasbourg court only accepted the appeal six years later -- in 2008.

Ernst Cherny, chairman of the Russian Public Committee for the Protection of Scholars, attributes the "great delay" to the role of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).

"In my opinion, this is connected with the fact that for some reason the [ECHR] is reluctant to consider any cases that were initiated by the FSB," Cherny says.

"Such cases are very dangerous for society because the accusations are fabricated. But the court, nonetheless, did not consider it possible to take up the matter earlier."

The Russian government now has three months to appeal the Strasbourg court's ruling to the Grand Chamber of the Court.

Sutyagin now lives in London. Among other things he has a blog on RFE/RL's Russian Service site here.

with contributions from RFE/RL's Russian Service
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