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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Rejects Sutyagin Appeal

APSutyagin listening to the Moscow City Court's verdict on April 7. He participated in Tuesday's hearing via a video linkup from jail.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld Igor Sutyagin's conviction to 15 years in prison on espionage charges in a case that human rights advocates called a miscarriage of justice and part of an FSB campaign to intimidate academics.

A Moscow City Court jury found Sutyagin, an arms control researcher at the respected USA and Canada Institute, guilty of treason in April for selling information on nuclear submarines and missile warning systems to a British company that the Federal Security Service, or FSB, claimed was a CIA cover.

Sutyagin maintained that he drew his information from publicly available sources such as news reports, and that he had no reason to believe that the British company was linked to U.S. intelligence.

Defense lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court that the judge and jury had been replaced for no good reason after the trial had begun and that the new judge, Marina Komarova, had misdirected jurors by telling them to ignore the nonclassified nature of the information Sutyagin had passed on. The lawyers also said the prosecution's witnesses had misguided the jury by discussing evidence that did not pertain to the case.

Sutyagin's lawyers said they would appeal to the presidium of the Supreme Court -- the last possible avenue for appeal -- and seek justice at the European Court of Human Rights.

But Tuesday's ruling means that Sutyagin can now be transferred to a maximum-security prison to serve out his sentence.

Sutyagin's parents, Vyacheslav and Svetlana, said the decision squashed any hope that their son might be freed soon.

"We'll have to wait for another president. It's four more years," Sutyagin's father said at the door of the courthouse, in a reference to the clout that the FSB has gained under President Vladimir Putin.

"We have no hope," said Sutyagin's mother, fighting back tears.

The Supreme Court hearing was held behind closed doors, but journalists were let in after the judge had heard arguments from defense lawyers and prosecutors and left the room to make a decision.

Sutyagin, who participated in the court session via a video linkup from a defendant's cage in the Matrosskaya Tishina jail, paced back and forth and fidgeted with a string of prayer beads as he waited for the judge to return. When the judge reentered the room, Sutyagin put his hands behind his back and stood tall in tense anticipation. When he heard the ruling, he ran out of the defendant's cage and disappeared off-screen.

Sutyagin's lawyers and supporters said they had not pinned much hope on the Supreme Court because they had suspected its decision would be influenced by the FSB, which investigated the case.

"For me, justice in Russia has ended with the Sutyagin case," defense lawyer Boris Kuznetsov said.

"The judicial system in Russia doesn't work. To be more exact, it works like it is being dictated by an outside agency -- and that agency is the Federal Security Service," said Ernest Chyorny, a member of the Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists.

Chyorny said the FSB wanted to use Sutyagin's case as an example of its success in catching spies.

An FSB spokesman said Tuesday that the attacks on the security service by Sutyagin's supporters were "their own personal business."

Another defense lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, said the little hope she had nurtured for a favorable decision evaporated when she learned in the courtroom Tuesday that the appeal would be handled by a judge who had rejected two earlier appeals from Sutyagin -- one to throw out the case and one for release pending trial.

The defense asked for another judge but was turned down, she said.

The judge, whom Stavitskaya identified only by his last name, Galiulin, ordered the sound turned off on the video linkup when Sutyagin explained his reasons for the appeal, Stavitskaya said.

Sutyagin also asked the judge to wait until a 200-page letter he had written in his defense was delivered by mail, but the judge rejected the request, she said.

Prosecutor Yevgeny Naidyonov praised the decision. "The court has confirmed that no violations were made during the trial," he said.

Stavitskaya said the European Court of Human Rights is processing an appeal from Sutyagin about the earlier court ruling ordering him to remain in custody before the trial. Sutyagin was arrested in October 1999 and only went on trial in November 2003.

Defense lawyers plan to amend the European court appeal to ask that the court consider Sutyagin's conviction, Stavitskaya said.

The court has not set a date to hand down a ruling but has said it considers the case a priority, she said.

Amnesty International has named Sutyagin -- who has been given the longest prison term for espionage since Soviet times -- a political prisoner.

Human Rights Watch said Monday that upholding the conviction would amount to "a gross miscarriage of justice."

Sutyagin's case is one in a series of dubious espionage prosecutions brought against independent scientists, journalists and environmentalists, and seemingly aimed at discouraging contacts with foreigners and clamping down on the discussion of sensitive topics such as nuclear pollution and arms transfers.

Krasnoyarsk physicist Valentin Danilov, who was also tried on espionage charges, was acquitted, but the Supreme Court ordered a retrial in June.

Sutyagin's wife, who has irregular jobs cleaning hallways in apartment buildings in the family's hometown of Obninsk, in the Kaluga region, and their two daughters did not attend Tuesday's hearing.

"It's more than she can take," Sutyagin's mother said.