Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jail Extended for Naval Nuclear Activist

A Russian military journalist who exposed nuclear waste dumping by the Pacific Fleet will have to spend at least two more months in jail while federal agents try to build a treason case against him, his supporters said Thursday.

The Federal Security Service arrested Captain Grigory Pasko on Nov. 23 on suspicion of spying after he returned to Vladivostok from a business trip to Japan.

His wife and supporters say the charges are spurious and that authorities are hounding Pasko for exposing the navy's mishandling of nuclear materials.

The case, his supporters say, is similar to the Federal Security Service's prosecution of former navy captain Alexander Nikitin for helping compile and publicize a similar report about the Northern Fleet's handling of nuclear materials. That case has caused an international uproar and demands that the charges be dropped.

"What is happening [in Vladivostok] shocks me," Nikitin said from St. Petersburg, where he is still awaiting trial after repeated delays. "Without a doubt, Grigory Pasko is in the same situation as me."

"He is an officer -- a man of honor," said Alexander Radushkeyevich, deputy editor of the Weekly News in Vladivostok and a friend of Pasko's since 1983. "This is a fabricated case to punish him for his environmental research."

The Federal Security Service says it has a legitimate case against Pasko based on documents [it] confiscated from him as he left for the business trip and from his apartment, though it is unclear why he wasn't arrested until he returned.

Colonel Mikhail Kirilin, a spokesman for the security service in Moscow, denied Thursday that Pasko was being prosecuted because of his environmental activism.

"I can say that some of the documents confiscated had nothing to do with ecology in the Primorsky region," he said. "It is a well-known fact that environmental activism is often used as a cover for agents."

Like Nikitin, Pasko is accused of high treason, a crime that carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Pasko's wife, Galina Morozova, said Thursday that she believes the extension of the investigation is illegal and demanded that her husband be released. She said Pasko has further angered authorities by refusing to cooperate with investigators until he is released from custody, and that prison authorities have responded with psychological warfare, shunting Pasko five times from one overcrowded cell to another.

He shares quarters with the most serious offenders, has been denied medical attention and letters, and is allowed only one visit each month, she said.

Morozova, who was allowed to visit her husband Thursday for only the second time, said authorities have offered a reduced sentence if he confesses to being a spy.

She said the documents seized by authorities pertained to the involvement of private companies in the handling of nuclear waste. It was an investigative report Pasko had been working on since 1992, she said.

In a letter reportedly smuggled from his pretrial detention cell and published in a local newspaper last month, Pasko claims to have received all his information legally and through official means with the full co-operation of his military superiors.

Morozova also said there was nothing suspicious about Pasko taking unrelated materials on his working visit to Japan.

"Like any journalist, he works on several issues at once," she said. "He has a right to do this."

Morozova also said Pasko's trip had been sanctioned by his naval command and was his third such visit to research a story on Russian sailors buried in Japan after World War II.

The Japanese Embassy in Moscow has declined to comment on Pasko's case.

Pasko has ruffled many feathers during his 14-year navy career. In 1993 he shot footage of a Russian tanker dumping radioactive waste in the Pacific. Although the film was slated to appear on local television, it was never broadcast. It was broadcast in Japan, however, after that country's state-run NHK television channel approached Pasko for a copy, Morozova said. The footage caused an uproar.

NHK's Moscow office refused to confirm whether Pasko had provided the footage, but the company said in a written statement that news of the dumping "sent shockwaves not only to Japan and South Korea, but also to the people living on the Russian coast."

Although Pasko was "severely reprimanded" by his superiors, he continued to write articles about the covert dumping of nuclear waste and human rights abuses in the Pacific Fleet.

Kirilin countered that it wouldn't make sense for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, to conceal environmental abuses. The service has "a responsibility to protect citizens from environmental damage," he said. "We have a special department devoted to this and work in full contact with environmental groups."

Pasko's fate could be tied to Russia's nebulous law on state secrets, which was expanded by presidential decree in October 1997. Although information on the environment can not be considered a state secret, the new law includes nuclear installations with defense significance.

The law fails to define defense significance, however, providing leeway for broad interpretation by the authorities.

"This is how the FSB works," Nikitin said. "Any state information can be deemed a secret and anyone can be arrested."