Grigory Pasko: It was a strange kind of freedom…

12 July 2020

Grigory Pasko, journalist, director of the Fellowship of Investigative Journalists

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Эхо Москвы]

Most amazingly, there were indeed laws.
They took the Criminal Code
carefully into their hands,
because if pressed
it sprayed blood.
…It was a strange kind of freedom!

Boris Slutsky

My colleagues, and in particular Dmitry Muratov, editor of Novaya gazeta, are rightly demanding the maximum possible transparency for the proceedings in the case of Ivan Safronov. 

Transparency is a good thing. But in this instance, I think it’s of secondary importance. First priority are the changes to the criminal law, and in particular to the wording of Article 275, the article on ‘treason.’

Quite frankly, the previous wording was also far from legal perfection. But the wording from the new version introduced in 2012 is downright teeming with absurdities.

According to the new wording of Article 275, the prosecution does not need to prove intent, damage, association with members of foreign intelligence agencies, the possibility or existence of access to information considered classified…

“Helping a foreign agent,” for example, is a crime.

It’s understood that the accuracy of how a law is applied depends directly on the accuracy of the terminology in legislative documents. If a law is vague and not specific, the prosecutor has free reign. And, incidentally, so do judges.

Legal language must be precise and specific – this is a given for all old-school lawyers.
But, “times changed, names changed.” Lawyers are different now, and they have different demands.

In his article titled “Democracy and the quality of the state,” lawyer Vladimir Putin wrote: “If [the language of legislation] cannot be made melodious (as in ancient times, when laws were often written in verse to make them easier to remember), then it should at least be understandable to its audience.”

That’s just how the FSB officers created the new version of Article 275 for themselves: it’s a text they can understand, it puts them under no obligations, and frees them from the burden of scrupulous work under the law to prove the guilt of potential criminals.

It’s clear that the interpretation of the law directly depends on one’s expertise, professionalism, level of culture and education.

And if these things are lacking?

Then here, take the new version of Article 275!

The accusers are FSB officers. They are more likely to violate the law regarding the rights of accused and suspects, arrested and convicted. They essentially manage the prosecution via the prosecutors and even carry out the so-called “operational support of legal proceedings” — something very controversial from a legal perspective.
This means that the judges are in the pocket of the FSB.

(So ​​far, one thing is clear about the role of the External Intelligence Service [SVR] in the Safronov case — they do in fact play a role, since Naryshkin himself spoke out. This didn’t used to be the case, having two services openly harnessed to one cart. As an example, in “my case,” when KGB officers learned that there was no evidence, they turned to both the SVR and the Military Intelligence Service [GRU] for help. They were told to get lost. This is because there used to be a clear divide between functions, there was competition… Under Putin, KGB officers have started leading all departments. Instead of there being several intelligence services, there’s essentially one large one: the FSB.

As such, the root of the evil lies not in the closed nature of trials for treason, but in the very essence of these cases. 

Spy mania was, is, and will be, so long as there is Article 275 of the criminal code. In turn, the article, was, is, and will be, because of the FSB… which in turn was, is, and will be because it was not condemned and recognised as criminal when it should have been; and because the law on lustration was not adopted. 

Spy mania is beneficial to this government, one that is afraid of the truth and uses the article on treason as a tool for reprisals against those who disagree, dissent, and those who think critically …

Now a few words on the problems that impact the work we do. 

There are plenty of topics for discussion. These include: access to information; a lack of response to publications (especially investigations); a rabid propaganda that masquerades as journalism; and the economic dependence of the media on the authorities. 

We must initiate amendments to the law on state secrets. We must create a clear and understandable list of the information that constitutes a state secret. There should not be departmental lists but one, single, state-wide list that can be accessed by everyone.

We must initiate a reorganization of all expert activities in Russia. It has long been clear that there are almost no experts, be they independent, competent, professional, in the country. It is also imperative to remove experts on treason cases from being under the control of the FSB!

We must initiate a public conversation with the leadership of the Siloviki (security officials) (I’m not sure that Putin can influence them, so I don’t see any point in meeting him) in order to discuss existing problems in relations.

You drew attention to the fact that press conferences given by the representatives of power structures have practically disappeared. This is almost the only opportunity for journalists to ask a direct question but security officials do not consider it necessary to meet with journalists. They ignore them, believing that they are superior to them, that the media are not worth their time. They believe that the role of the media is to grovel and spread propaganda, not truthful information, to the public. This is how their incompetence manifests itself. They do not realise that freedom of speech is the basis of democracy. It is only possible to build and develop a normal state where freedom of expression is guaranteed.

By imprisoning journalists on false charges, the authorities themselves increase the number of problems and deprive society of its right to know.

Translated by Nina dePalma and Matthew Quigley

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