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From the sidelines the work of the security services may primarily seem romantic and heroic. But in fact, it is difficult, scrupulous work in which success is only achieved with great difficulty, any concrete result requires enormous efforts. I remember in my years of education the teachers told us: “If any of you during your entire service–and at that time it was generally accepted that you had to serve twenty-five years in the KGB of the USSR—will participate in the realization of a spy case, a high treason case, you should consider yourself lucky and you indeed did not study for nothing.

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia’s Federal Security Service.1

The FSB strictly observes the law and always follows them. Attempts to present these events [the prosecutions of Alexander Nikitin, Grigorii Pasko, and Igor Sutiagin], which were conducted within the framework of the law, as violations of some human rights, [or] ecological [rights] are unfounded.

Vasilii Stavitskii, deputy head of the public relations department of the Federal Security Service.2

On October 27, 2003, arms researcher Igor Sutiagin faces a troubling anniversary: four years will have passed since security service officers detained him at his home. Ever since, Sutiagin has been waiting in a jail cell for a court to decide his fate. The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has charged Sutiagin with high treason, accusing him of collecting materials, including classified information, on a variety of issues relating to Russia’s weapons systems and other military issues, and passing it on to U.S. military intelligence officers between June 1998 and July 1999.3 Sutiagin maintains that he did nothing wrong, that he collected information on military issues, from open sources only, for a U.K.-based consultancy firm on the basis of a legal freelance contract. After his case went to trial, in December 2001 the Kaluga Province Court sharply criticized the FSB’s investigation into the case, stating that the indictment was so vaguely formulated that it was impossible to understand the charges against Sutiagin. But rather than acquit the defendant, the court returned the case to the FSB for “further investigation,” thus awarding the agency a hardly deserved second chance. A new hearing of the case is expected to start in late 2003.

Sutiagin’s protracted legal battle with Russia’s security services is not unique. Throughout the past eight years, the FSB has pressed dubious espionage charges against about a dozen scientists, journalists, and environmentalists.4 Each of the defendants had worked with foreign contacts on issues that, in Soviet times, were under the exclusive control of the FSB’s predecessor, the KGB—nuclear waste dumping, environmental degradation, Russia’s military preparedness, military technology, and the like—but that became topics of broader public debate during the glasnost era. Leading human rights campaigners, who have coined the term “spy mania” (in Russian: shpionomania) to describe the series of espionage cases, believe the FSB has intentionally pressed false charges against these individuals to restore what it sees as its exclusive dominion, and to impose new limitations on freedom of expression on these topics. They see these cases as part of the FSB’s effort to reassert itself in Russian society and politics after its uneasy transition from the Soviet era. In the words of Liudmila Alekseeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group: “…the FSB has found an easy target [in scientists cooperating with foreigners in sensitive areas]. They…need to justify their existence and catching spies is their task.”5

This report examines Sutiagin’s case, setting it in the context of other similar “espionage cases.” It details violations of his right to due process and a fair trial. Human Rights Watch has chosen to focus on Sutiagin because he is the only one to still be awaiting his fate in prison.

Human Rights Watch cannot assess whether the FSB indeed pressed intentionally false charges as part of a broader effort to reassert its dominion. The defendants in these cases all provided foreign contacts with materials of a sensitive nature. The FSB may therefore have been well within its rights to look into these contacts and make sure they did not compromise Russia’s national security. However in prosecuting these cases, the FSB violated the defendants’ right to a fair trial: it put forward vaguely formulated charges, refused to verify claims that all information provided to foreign contacts came from the public domain, used secret decrees that the defendants were not allowed to see, and its officials publicly asserted the defendants’ guilt. This indicates that the FSB was more interested in convicting the defendants on espionage charges than in establishing the truth in their cases.6

In the Soviet era, the KGB was, in practice, above the law. In all but name, it was both prosecutor and judge, and challenges to the KGB’s authority were almost unheard of. When Russia became a member of the Council of Europe, it accepted accession conditions requiring it to strip the FSB of its authority to conduct criminal investigations and run detention centers. However these reforms have not happened. The FSB’s failure to respect Russian and international fair trial standards in the Sutiagin case and others like it are a worrying sign that the agency still operates on the basis of Soviet-era principles and is still far from accepting the fundamentally different role security services play in societies based on the rule of law—let alone being ready to observe the new rules.7

The courts have so far been reluctant to assert their newly won independence when hearing cases that have been investigated by the FSB. When ruling on “spy” cases most courts sought to strike a compromise. A number of courts avoided issuing verdicts by returning the cases to the FSB for “further investigation,” citing serious violations of criminal procedure.8 Others issued guilty verdicts but, in apparent recognition of the weakness of these cases, imposed sentences that are significantly shorter than the minimum term for treason set out in Russia’s criminal code.9 In one case, a court acquitted the defendant after the case came back from further investigation, with many of the same irregularities as when it was first brought to court.

Although these prosecutions have not led to the reintroduction of Soviet-style, blanket limitations on freedom of expression on the sensitive issues the defendants worked on, “spy mania” appears aimed to have a chilling effect on the wider community of people who work on these issues. Some of the “spy mania” defendants have told Human Rights Watch that colleague journalists and researchers have followed their cases closely and have become reluctant to engage in research or writing that could trigger the FSB’s suspicion. Even though none of the defendants have received long prison terms, most have spent at least a number of months in prison; the cases have paralyzed their lives and those of their families for years; and many of the defendants are still trying to clear their names.

Igor Sutiagin has arguably received the harshest treatment. Unlike the others, he remains in prison to this day. Human Rights Watch believes that the FSB’s failure to conduct a diligent investigation has violated his right to a fair trial.10 This failure has also drawn out criminal proceedings against Sutiagin to more than four years. Yet the judicial authorities have repeatedly prolonged Sutiagin’s pretrial detention, without requiring the FSB to provide relevant and sufficient grounds for his continued detention, and without carefully examining whether a genuine requirement of public interest justifies his continued detention. Human Rights Watch therefore makes the following recommendations:

To the Moscow City Court

· Release Igor Sutiagin from pretrial detention at the earliest possible opportunity.

· Ensure that proceedings at Sutiagin’s trial are fully consistent with international fair trial standards.

To the Russian government

· Bring the FSB “in line with the European principles and standards,” as required by the conditions for Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe, as soon as possible. As part of this reform, the FSB should be stripped of its powers of criminal investigation and its authority to run detention centers.

· Until the FSB’s powers of investigation are removed, the government should clearly instruct the FSB to observe all provisions of criminal procedure law in its investigations, and should publicly encourage the courts to rigorously apply the criminal procedure standards when hearing criminal cases that have been investigated by the FSB.

· Review all legislation on state secrets, including the federal law and the presidential decree on state secrets as well as ministerial decrees, to ensure that this body of law does not arbitrarily infringe upon freedom of expression. In this review, the government should be guided by standards on freedom of expression and state security that have been developed in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights and the U.N. Human Rights Committee, and by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression.

To the U.N. Human Rights Committee

· Consider the issues raised in this briefing paper during its review of Russia’s fifth periodic report on October 23, 2003.Call for the release from detention of Igor Sutiagin pending the outcome of his trial.

To the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

· Appoint a special rapporteur to investigate the case of Igor Sutiagin.

· Call for the release from detention of Igor Sutiagin pending the outcome of his trial.

· Call for respect for judicial guarantees laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights and its case law in proceedings against him.

· Call on the Russian government to reform the FSB, in line with the conditions for Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe, as soon as possible.

To the European Union, its member states, and the United States

· Call for the release from pretrial detention of Igor Sutiagin.

· Call on the Russian government to reform the FSB, in line with the conditions for Russia’s accession to the Council of Europe, as soon as possible.

1 “My sluzhim Rossii (We serve Russia),” Literaturnaya Gazeta, No. 50-51, December 18, 2002. The article is available on the FSB’s official web site (retrieved October 9, 2003).

2 RTR television, Vesti (News), October 29, 1999. See: (retrieved October 9, 2003).

3 FSB is the Russian acronym for Federalnaia Sluzhba Bezopasnosti. The FSB is the successor to the KGB. Its functions include, among others, homeland security, the fight against organized crime, foreign intelligence gathering, and counterespionage. It is also responsible for certain categories of criminal investigations, including those related to espionage and treason.

4 In most of these cases, the FSB charged the defendants under article 275 of the Russian criminal code. This article reads:

State treason—espionage, disclosure of state secrets or other assistance to a foreign state, a foreign organization, or their representatives in the conduct of hostile activities to undermine the national security of the Russian Federation, committed by a citizen of the Russian Federation—is punishable by imprisonment for a term of twelve to twenty years, with or without confiscation of property.

5 Ekho Moskvy, Goriachie interviu (Hot interviews), July 1, 2003. See: (retrieved on October 9, 2003).

6 While it is ultimately up to the courts to weigh the evidence against a defendant and rule on his guilt or innocence, the FSB’s refusal to take into consideration obvious facts that could exonerate the defendant testifies to its bad faith.

7 Opinion No. 193(1996) of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, “On Russia’s request for membership of the Council of Europe,” paragraph 10(xvii). See at: (retrieved on October 9, 2003).

8 This happened in, among others, the cases of Valentin Danilov, Alexander Nikitin, Igor Sutiagin, and Vladimir Shchurov.

9 Under article 275 of the criminal code, treason is punishable by imprisonment for a term of twelve to twenty years, with or without confiscation of property.

10 Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights states that “[I]n the determination…of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains a similar provision.

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October 2003