Journalist who filmed Russian Navy dump radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan still in jail
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
On 25 December, journalist Grigory Pasko will face a parole hearing in the Russian Federation. International human rights, environmental and media organizations including Amnesty International, Greenpeace and Reporters without Borders have launched an urgent appeal to help end the injustice and secure his freedom.
Grigory Pasko is the Russian journalist who was charged with treason and sentenced to four years in prison for filming the Russian navy dump radioactive waste and ammunition into the Sea of Japan back in 1993. His film entitled "Extra-Dangerous Zone" was broadcast by NHK and his articles on the issue have also been published widely. In Europe, his work has earned him a nomination for the prestigious Sakharov Prize for the Freedom of Thought given by the European Parliament. Previous winners include Nelson Mandela, Aleksander Dubcek and Aung San Suu Kyi. This year Pasko was also awarded the International Journalist Prize by Reporters without Borders and Fondation de France. Honored internationally for his dedication to the freedom of information, Pasko continues to face persecution in Russia for exposing criminal acts carried out by Russia's Pacific Fleet and is currently serving his sentence in a labor camp located in Ussuriysk, approximately 100 km north-west of Vladivostok.
In an interview with John Owen of The Freedom Forum, Pasko stated that he was originally encouraged to write about and film the activities of the Russian Fleet in its handling of nuclear waste by senior officials in the Russian military (see interview with John Owen cited below). However, after revealing the dumping of nuclear waste into the Sea of Japan, documenting the health risks associated with this activity and handing over additional information on corruption in the Russian navy to a Japanese journalist, Grigory Pasko was brought to trial in 1997 and sentenced to three years imprisonment. He was found guilty of treason for "intending to pass on information to a Japanese journalist that would harm the battle readiness of the Pacific Fleet" (Amnesty International News Flash, 19 June 2001). After spending 20 months in jail, 10 of which were in solitary confinement, he was absolved of all charges and was released. However, in July 1999 an appeal was launched by the Pacific Fleet and in December 2001 he was sentenced to another four years imprisonment for the same crime and was labeled a spy.
According to Amnesty International there are no legal grounds for his detention as his actions were in full compliance with Russian law. Article 41 and 42 of the Russian Constitution stipulates that withholding information about the condition of the environment or on incidents or catastrophes which endanger human life is a violation of the constitution and a criminal offense (AI News Flash, July 1999; European Parliament Resolution, P5-TA-PROV(2002)0377, 4 July 2002). By documenting the illegal activities of the Pacific Fleet, Pasko was acting in full accordance with the law by informing the public (not only in Russia but also in Japan) about the dangers associated with the dumping of radioactive waste into the sea. Ironically, Pasko was sentenced for obeying the law and serving the public good. Amnesty International believes that Pasko is a prisoner of conscience and has been detained for exercising his right to free expression.
Grigory's work served to protect the Japanese public as well. However, in an interview with Pasko conducted over a year ago he expressed disappointment about the fact that the Japanese government has not acted to dismiss allegations that he was a Japanese spy. Pasko said in the interview that, "for the past four years, I've been accused of spying for Japan, but Japan has never once acknowledged this outrage and it has never once protested or made an official statement on the subject". Considering that Pasko acted to inform the Japanese and Russian public about a serious crime being committed in their environment, Japan has a duty to respond. Furthermore, according to Pasko the dumping of radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan is ongoing. This is a matter of concern to the Japanese public because such crimes threaten human and animal life and will have a detrimental impact on the environment for years to come.
As the date of Pasko's parole hearing approaches international pressure on the Russian government is mounting. Most recently the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe sent a fact finding rapporteur to examine the Pasko case and urged President Putin and others in the Russian government and judiciary to respect the law and absolve Pasko of his charges. Considering that Pasko's work also served to protect the Japanese public it would only be natural for Japanese to return the favor by acting on his behalf and joining in the effort to mobilize support for his unconditional release.
Below are a number of sites with additional information on the Pasko case: