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Russian Scientist Jailed For Spying Walks Free

Russian Scientist Jailed For Spying Walks Free
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WATCH: Russian scientist Valentin Danilov is released on parole.

Russian scientist Valentin Danilov has walked free after serving eight years of a controversial prison sentence on charges of spying for China.

After his release on parole in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk on November 24, Danilov, 66, said that he regarded himself as a political prisoner because the information he passed on was declassified.

Danilov smiled, joked, and laughed with reporters upon being set free.

"I would really appreciate it if somebody finally told me what state secret I sold," he said.

Danilov criticized his sentence, which he maintained was based on false charges.

He claimed that he had received official clearance to collaborate with a Chinese firm on building equipment designed to model the impact of the space environment on satellites.

"Everything that is connected with the word 'space' is a secret from the point of view of our security services," he said. "Everything, even the fact that the Earth is like a ball."

Danilov thanked his supporters for backing him during his long imprisonment.

"Everybody wished for my release," he said. "They believed in that and thought everything would be over. They wished me the usual things like patience, a good mood, health, and enough strength to endure all this."

READ Valentin Danilov's prison blog for RFE/RL's Russian Service (in English)

Danilov was imprisoned during President Vladimir Putin's first term in office. Human rights activists saw the scientist's case as an example of the Kremlin's use of the courts against opponents.

Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 and began a third term in May, has denied influencing the courts.

Rights Campaigners Welcome Release

Danilov was first arrested in 2001 and sentenced in 2004 but had already been held in detention before and during his trial. He was a researcher at Krasnoyarsk State University.

Danilov was sentenced to 14 years in prison in 2004 following a high-profile, three-year legal saga that saw him fully acquitted before a second trial resulted in a conviction on charges of passing state secrets to China. His sentence was later reduced.

The surprise decision to release him early was hailed by rights campaigners and fellow scientists, who say his case was politically motivated and believe he should never have been jailed in the first place.

Danilov has fervently maintained his innocence. He admitted selling information about satellite technology to a Chinese company but said the information had already been available from public sources.

After his release, he indicated that he may return to academia.

"Being a scientist is a way of life," he told reporters. "How can I stop working in science, otherwise what do I need my head for? Of course I will continue to work in science, but first of all in applied sciences, and I will in no way deal with space research, that's for sure."

Danilov's case was one of several during Putin's first spell as president that were seen by opponents as an attempt to intimidate academics with ties to other countries.

With reporting by Reuters, Interfax, ITAR-TASS, and RFE/RL's Russian Service
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