Igor Sutiagin, the Russian arms researcher convicted in April on what appear to be politically motivated treason charges, should be given a prompt retrial that meets international standards of fairness, five international and Russian human groups said today.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and the Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists also called on the Russian government to release Sutiagin from prison pending retrial.
“Sutiagin did not get a fair trial,” said Rachel Denber, acting director of the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “The Russian government appears to be using his case to intimidate academics, journalists and others who do research on sensitive issues.”
In April the Moscow City Court handed Sutiagin a 15-year sentence, the longest prison term for high treason since Soviet times. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, had accused Sutiagin of collecting materials on a variety of issues relating to Russia’s weapons systems and other military issues, and passing them on to U.S. military intelligence officers. Sutiagin acknowledged that he gathered information on these topics, from open sources, for a U.K.-based consultancy firm on the basis of a legal freelance contract to supplement his meager academic salary.
The Sutiagin case is part of a broader pattern of dubious espionage charges brought against Russian citizens who were working with foreign contacts on sensitive issues that until recently had been under thorough KGB control. These issues include nuclear-waste dumping, environmental degradation, national defense preparedness and military technology.
In a joint statement issued today, the five human rights groups detailed concerns about the trial and investigation. The groups have documented due process violations in the handling of Sutiagin’s case. In crucial instances, the FSB, (the successor to the KGB) sent the wrong documents to experts who were supposed to review Sutiagin’s work to determine whether it was based on open sources. The presiding judge in the case and the composition of the jury were changed without explanation. The presiding judge excluded key questions of fact from the jury’s deliberations.
“These violations are just the latest in a series of violations of Sutagin’s rights, and they indicate a political motivation for his prosecution,” said Denber.
Human Rights Watch’s November 2003 briefing paper “Russia’s ‘Spy Mania’: A Study of the Case of Igor Sutiagin,” details some of the key due process violations in the prosecution of Sutiagin: vaguely formulated charges, a failure to identify secret sources from which Sutiagin received his materials, and the use of secret decrees. The briefing paper places the Sutiagin case in the broader context of so-called “spy mania” in Russia, a series of dubious espionage charges that has had a chilling effect on Russian journalists, scientists and ecologists.
“The Sutiagin case has emerged at a time when the Russian government is increasingly restricting civil and political rights and is increasingly hostile to human rights organizations trying to protect those rights, said Denber. “The international community needs to challenge these incursions and press Russia to reverse this backtracking.”
Human Rights Watch and the other signatories of the joint statement urged the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to appoint Special Rapporteur for the case of Igor Sutiagin. The five human rights groups also urged the international community to raise his case at the highest level with the Russian government.