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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: State Goes Overboard On Treason




Russia has arrested yet another naval officer with a history of investigating the military's environmental abuses. Captain Grigory Pasko, an editor of Russia's Pacific Fleet newspaper Boyevaya Vakhta, or Combat Vigil, has been in jail since his arrest in Vladivostok on Sunday upon returning from a trip to Japan.


The Federal Security Service, or FSB, says it intends to charge Pasko with treason, alleging that documents seized from him on his way out of Russia contain state secrets. It is hard to understand why the FSB let Pasko leave the country if he really was a spy.


On the face of it, Pasko's arrest looks to be some sort of retribution for video footage he leaked to Japan's NHK television network in 1993 that showed Russian ships dumping nuclear waste at sea. Russia eventually agreed to stop the practice as Tokyo promised assistance in building a waste reprocessing plant.


The case against Pasko bears a strong resemblance to the case against St. Petersburg environmentalist Alexander Nikitin, who was arrested and imprisoned in February 1996 for reporting on the Northern Fleet's disposal of nuclear waste for the environmental group Bellona. Nikitin languished eight months in jail without being charged for months before his eventual release. He is still awaiting trial.


But there are some differences.


First, it's not clear exactly what information Pasko tried to take with him to Japan. If Pasko was again doing environmental reporting for NHK, the network should come forward to say as much. But so far the network has made no official statement.


Russian investigators deny that the documents have anything to do with environmental protection and say that Pasko was indeed leaking security and defense secrets. Their track record on the Nikitin case does not inspire confidence.


Second, Pasko's case is complicated by the fact that he is still a navy officer. Nikitin was also a navy captain, but had resigned his commission as a supervisor of Defense Ministry nuclear facilities long before his arrest. Pasko's active military status means that any disclosures, whether they be of classified material or not, could be a violation of regulations governing his commission.


Of course, if the FSB has arrested Pasko for leaking environmental data, which admittedly could violate his commission, charging him with treason is going way, way overboard. As activists argue, Russia's state secrets law specifically states that information on the environment cannot be a state secret.


For now, the key is that Pasko, unlike Nikitin, should get a fair and speedy resolution to his case in accordance with Russian law.