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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

LETTER FROM VLADIVOSTOK: Pasko Proves Journalists Have to Be Brave to Win




On Tuesday a skinny, grinning man in a black T-shirt dropped by my office and greeted me by name. I replied warily, as journalists do when they fear they are about to be hit with a request to write about, say, a Gypsy babushka who gave birth to space alien twins.


"Do you know me?" he asked.


I did not.


"I'm Grigory Pasko."


Pasko is the navy journalist who spent 20 months in jail on treason charges because of his environmental reporting, and I had seen him dozens of times on television, in the papers, and at the Pacific Fleet courthouse. I have even snapped his photo as police muscled him up a narrow court stairwell, in handcuffs. He was released last month after a military court dismissed the espionage charge and convicted him of misconduct - a hearing so dramatic that his wife fainted and reporters applauded the verdict. But suddenly I realized why I hadn't recognized Pasko. It was the first time I had ever seen him smile. Two weeks after his release, he still radiated joy.


Pasko was jailed in part for his freelance work with Japanese media, and the navy is pushing for his retrial. I hasten to reassure all my loyal readers in the Federal Security Service that Pasko and I did nothing more than chat and look over our online newspaper. So if anyone tries to draw conclusions about our meeting, this foreign editor will use his international forum to cry out, "Liar, liar, pants on fire."


I issue this stern warning in the wake of a news conference Wednesday by the Pacific Fleet. Rear Admiral Nikolai Sotskov is unhappy with the verdict that said, in effect, that it is not treasonous to tell the public that the navy was pitching rusty barrels full of radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan. Sotskov believes otherwise: "Pasko is a spy, and we are going to prove it."


After 20 months of this, the navy and the FSB still can't admit the truth. Their case was so weak, they failed to convince even a hand-picked panel of military judges. The judges themselves must have scratched their heads over the accusation, revealed in a leaked FSB document, that Pasko committed espionage by sitting in on a meeting of Pacific Fleet brass and subsequently writing a story about it. Why did nobody notice the scoundrel taking notes in the meeting? Were the admirals in cahoots? If so, shouldn't they be seized up, keelhauled and flogged around the fleet? Shouldn't the FSB issue wedgies to the military censors who approved the story for print?


Perhaps in the end it was easier simply to free the reporter.


Pasko is trying to reverse his conviction. I told him he was a brave man, and I half expected a modest denial. But instead he replied, "Journalists should be brave."