Russian scientist sentenced for spying

Expert to serve 15 years hard labor

rights groups criticize case, trial

April 08, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MOSCOW - A Moscow court sentenced a Russian scientist yesterday to 15 years at hard labor for spying for the United States in a case that rights groups said harked back to Soviet-style repression.

Igor Sutyagin, 39, an arms control expert, was found guilty of espionage Monday for selling information to a foreign company. He and fellow scientists had said the information was unclassified and open to the public.

The sentencing is the latest in a string of similar cases that appear to reflect concerns within the Russian security services about contacts between Russian and foreign scientists.

The Federal Security Bureau, the successor to the KGB, has stepped up investigations and prosecutions of scientists since the election in 2000 of President Vladimir V. Putin.

Scientists said the cases would discourage interaction with their foreign counterparts, which would be a setback for research here.

Sutyagin was affiliated with the prestigious USA and Canada Institute when he was arrested in October 1999. He has been in custody since then as his case made its way through a legal labyrinth.

He was accused of collecting and selling material on nuclear submarines and missile warning systems to a British company that prosecutors said was a cover for the CIA.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union and the shrinking of state subsidies for science, many scientists have found work in research and other activities for foreign companies.

When the judge instructed the jury, she made no reference to the question of whether the material was classified, said Boris Kuznetsov, one of Sutyagin's lawyers. After his sentencing, Sutyagin repeated his defense that he had only analyzed material that was publicly available.

"The only thing I am guilty of is that I had contacts with foreigners," he said. "In fact only newspapers, magazines and books, mostly published abroad, were the sources of my work."

The jury trial was an innovation that has only been used once before in an espionage trial, which ended in acquittal last year for Valentin Danilov, a scientist accused of selling secrets to China.

"We're returning to a time when science was considered a dangerous profession," Danilov told reporters after his acquittal.

Another scientist who was acquitted in a similar trial involving unclassified material, Anatoly Nikitin, told the radio station Ekho Moskvy: "A man has been jailed for 15 years for carrying out scientific activity. Even terrorists get less."

Lyudmila Alekseyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, a leading human rights organization, said she doubted the independence of the jury in Sutyagin's case.

"I believe he is innocent and I do believe that the judge and prosecutor and jury knew he is innocent," she said.

In January four international rights groups said Sutyagin was "the target of politically motivated treason charges" and protested to the Council of Europe.

The State Department issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the trial for its "lack of transparency and due process."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.