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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Japan's Unpaid Debt to Pasko

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In December, Grigory Pasko, naval officer and journalist for the Pacific Fleet's newspaper, was convicted on the basis of a secret military decree and sentenced to four years in prison. The prosecution alleged that he had gathered information with the intention of handing it over to the Japanese media.

His reporting on the dumping of radioactive waste at sea by the Pacific Fleet as well as other problems concerning the Pacific Fleet was well known. It was pretty clear that he was being persecuted for his expos?s of these problems. Russian and international environmental and human rights groups have provided support to his defense.

And after the December court ruling Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience.

One of the most puzzling aspects of the Pasko case, however, has been the involvement (or lack thereof) of the Japanese press and government.

Pasko's assistance and reporting contributed significantly to the work of the Vladivostok bureaus of NHK television, Japan's sole public broadcasting network, and Asahi Shimbun, Japan's most prestigious daily newspaper; and in particular to their coverage of environmental problems in the Pacific Fleet.

Yet, as The New York Times reported in January 1999, NHK did not report on the opening of his trial. Nor did the television network appeal for Pasko's release, noting that Pasko never worked exclusively for NHK. Asahi Shimbun also avoided reporting on the start of the trial, although it did tell The New York Times that it had interviewed Pasko to gain information about environmental issues concerning the Pacific Fleet.

It is worrisome that Pasko's Japanese colleagues have not spoken up. Most journalists seem to understand that, in situations like this, if they do not hang together they will hang separately. Other journalists and writers' organizations have supported Pasko. The Committee to Protect Journalists in New York as well as the writers' organization PEN International have given him their support.

During the four-plus arduous years of his trial, however, none of Pasko's Japanese reporter colleagues have come forward publicly in his defense.

It is also regrettable that the Japanese government has not protested to the Russian government about the persecution of Pasko. Russia has tremendous environmental problems and some of the worst involve the situation with the country's navy and its rotting nuclear submarines. Submarines are docked with spent nuclear fuel on board and shoreside naval waste sites are full to overflowing and in dismal shape. Previously, radioactive and nuclear waste from submarines was dumped at sea -- a practice that nobody really wants to see resumed.

The world has learned about these huge environmental problems thanks to people such as Pasko who have been bold and brave enough to speak out and write about what they have seen.

If it had not been for Pasko and other Russian reporters, Japan could well have faced a radioactive nightmare in the Sea of Japan.

Pasko's case is being appealed to the Supreme Court. Journalistic ethics and common human decency should dictate that Asahi Shimbun and NHK stand behind their colleague and work vigorously and vociferously for Pasko's defense.

The Japanese government, moreover, should support Pasko and his right to freedom of speech. Without the ability of people like Pasko to do their work, we may not know about the next potential nuclear disaster until it is too late.

Steve Shallhorn was disarmament coordinator for Greenpeace International and in October 1993 was part of the team that caught a Russian naval vessel dumping radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.