Russian journalist paroled after serving most of term

Whistle-blower's jailing had sparked protests

January 24, 2003|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW - A Russian journalist and environmental whistle-blower whose conviction sparked international protests was paroled yesterday after serving more than two-thirds of a four-year term.

A military court had convicted Grigory Pasko of treason for attending a 1997 meeting of Russian naval commanders and taking notes, which the court ruled he had intended to pass to Japanese reporters. Pasko's backers say he was punished in reprisal for his reporting on environmental abuses by the Russian navy, including the dumping of radioactive waste into the sea.

Pasko's imprisonment had been seen as part of a tightening of pressure against independent reporting in recent years. His release "is the first good news about press freedom to have come from Russia in a long time," Robert Menard, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog group, said in a statement.

Speaking by telephone from his home in Vladivostok, Pasko said his phone had been ringing all day. "The people who call me are jolly and full of optimism, but to be honest, I personally am not that optimistic," he said.

"Fundamentally, Russia has not changed at all, still no one cares about anything here and the authorities are free to do anything they want," he said. "What happened to me over the past six years means that there is no freedom of speech in Russia today, just as there was no freedom of speech when I was arrested."

However, Pasko added, he is grateful to the judge who ordered him released, and he said he was happy to be home with sons Ruslan, 19, and Pavel, 4. His wife, Galina Morozova, was in Berlin meeting with lawmakers and human rights activists. But they had spoken three times by phone, he said.

"It is as if I have come back from a long business trip," he said. "This is, by the way, what my younger son, Pavel, said when he saw me: `Daddy is finally back from a business trip.' He did not see me for most of his life. ... It feels inexplicably great when your son puts his little palm in your hand or rides on your shoulders."

Morozova told Russian TVS television that her husband's release "is only a small, small victory, a small part of the fight that we're waging. This victory does not mean his rehabilitation, his acquittal. The main work is still ahead of us."

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