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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Activists Slam Suspected Spy's Arrest in Far East

Human rights and environmental activists protested Wednesday the arrest of Captain Grigory Pasko of the Pacific Fleet, saying that they feared it was another case of Russia's security services persecuting an environmentalist who has broken no laws.

Pasko, 33, a correspondent for the fleet's paper Boyevaya Vakhta, was arrested Sunday as he arrived back from a trip to Japan on suspicion of spying. Customs officials had confiscated naval documents they had found in his luggage when he was leaving Vladivostok a few days previously but they had let him proceed on his journey.

He was arrested on his return and is now being held in a detention center under suspicion of spying for Japan, according to the military newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda. When the security services examined the documents they concluded that they contained state secrets, the paper said.

But Pasko's lawyer, Oleg Kotlyarov, has protested his client's innocence and has lodged a complaint against his "unlawful arrest" with the Pacific Fleet's military court, the Kommersant Daily newspaper reported Wednesday. Pasko has published a series of articles on nuclear waste dumping by the Pacific Fleet and has so incurred the wrath of the military, Kotlyarov was quoted as saying.

His client had been warned more than once by superiors not to "wash the fleet's dirty linen in public," he said.

The military confirmed that Pasko had been reprimanded after he filmed a Russian tanker dumping nuclear waste in 1993 and gave the tape to the state-owned Japanese television company NHK, Itar-Tass reported Wednesday, quoting an "informed source" in the Pacific Fleet.

According to the source, Pasko was on board the tanker and filmed the dumping with a camera given to him by NHK. The footage caused a furor in Japan.

NHK would not confirm or deny if it had any relationship with Pasko. It did however release a statement saying that it was the news media's duty to gather information on a subject which affects people's health and property.

Neither the Japanese Embassy in Moscow nor Russia's Foreign Affairs Ministry would comment on Pasko's case.

General Alexander Zdanovich of the Federal Security Service said so far Pasko had not been accused in connection with any country and investigations over the next 10 days would reveal whether Pasko was just gathering information which was secret or working specifically for a foreign intelligence service, Itar-Tass reported.

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch Helsinki and the environmental group Greenpeace said that if Pasko was being detained for gathering material on the environment then his detention is illegal.

"The law on state secrets says that any information of the environment cannot be a state secret," said Diederik Lohman of Human Rights Watch Helsinki.

"When nuclear waste is dumped you have to take additional measures. You must know what was dumped and where to ensure fishing catches are not polluted and so on," said Oganas Targulian of Greenpeace.

Pasko's case appears to be similar to that of Alexander Nikitin, the St. Petersburg environmentalist imprisoned for publishing information on the Northern Fleet's nuclear waste, Lohman and Targulian said. Nikitin, a former navy captain, was released earlier this year after eight months in detention and now remains confined to the city of St. Petersburg awaiting trial for treason.