7 July 2020
Ivan Pavlov is head of the human rights organization Team 29 and a Moscow Helsinki Group prize winner.
On 7 July in Moscow Ivan Safronov, a former journalist for Kommersant and Vedomosti, who recently became an adviser to the head of Roskosmos, was arrested. He is accused of high treason and working for the intelligence agencies of Nato countries. Meduza spoke with Ivan Pavlov, a lawyer and head of the human rights organization Team 29, which specializes in such cases, about how high treason cases are usually judged and how the case of Safronov might therefore develop. As part of a team of five lawyers, Pavlov also represents Safronov in court regarding the adoption of pre-trial restrictions on his freedom.
Prosecutions for state treason seem especially difficult for lawyers. What difficulties do you usually encounter?
Specifically, your procedural opponent turns out to be the all-powerful intelligence agency. All-powerful not only within Russia, but perhaps in the world. And these quite sufficiently powerful procedural opponents often start positioning you as the enemy. That’s how their psychology is constructed. Their worldview. Us and them.
Enemies of the FSB or of the state?
They decide that. So you have to be prepared for any kind of provocation. Be ready for anything. And be careful, of course.
Additionally, they will try to shut the lawyer up very quickly. With all possible kinds of non-disclosure agreements – not only regarding state secrets, but information about the investigation in general. Any word from you – and they can bring a criminal case against a lawyer. So it’s practically impossible to work alone on such cases. We must always try to work on these cases as a team, so that someone remains outside the non-disclosure agreement and can tell the public about what is happening.
Litigation in such cases is usually held behind closed doors, right?
Yes. All hearings are closed, including those regarding the adoption of pre-trial restrictions on the freedom of the defendant. People are allowed in only for the announcement of the verdict. And the investigation is always closed. The only person you can get information from is the lawyer. Because in 99% of cases the accused person is in custody. And accordingly they can’t say anything themselves. But on the other hand, this means no non-disclosure agreement applies to them, and if they are released, then they can talk. For example, the Turkan case: she was free for a short time and got a chance to talk about the case herself. But for this you have to be free, and not everyone manages that, by far.
In conditions when lawyers themselves are under a non-disclosure agreement , what can they tell about the case?
A lawyer under a non-disclosure agreement risks everything. Including freedom – there already have been cases where lawyers have been convicted for disclosing information about an investigation. They risk their status. If they get any conviction, even a suspended sentence, they will lose their profession. Lawyers have a lot to fear. But there is one sure tactic that helps to solve this problem: we must work as a team. This allows us to convey to society the awful things that are happening behind closed doors.
What can a lawyer do in such cases? It seems that the space for action is very limited.
First of all, perform the legal aspects of the job impeccably. Secondly, lawyers should try not to incriminate themselves when they communicate with the press. Not to incriminate yourself with regard to personal risks for yourself, so as not to be charged with disclosure of state secrets or of the secrecy of the investigation.
Everyone knows that people do not get justice if charged under this article of the Criminal Code. Do defendants have a chance?
Everyone always has some chance. It is important not to give up and to fight. Temporary failures should not affect resilience.
But the chances are less even than the average in Russia, where far less than 1% of acquittals are made.
Yes. If you look at the statistics, the situation is, of course, dreadful. Even when a person might to be able to prove that they are innocent, they can be given a suspended sentence or be subjected to some other conditions. But I hope that the time will come when this procedure will be rectified. You just have to work away at it. And work at it irreproachably.
In 2001, you defended the journalist Grigory Pasko, who was also accused of treason. Can we draw any parallels with the Ivan Safronov case?
Yes, it’s possible. In both cases, they were tried for journalistic activity. But times have certainly changed. At that time the entire journalist community stood up for Gregory – even the central TV channels spoke in his defence. Now, of course, the central channels have changed a little. But, nevertheless, the journalist community is more active than others. And Ivan Golunov’s case is a good example. And I hope that now you will be able to make your feelings clear to the authorities in the case of Ivan Safronov. You have already saved one Ivan, now save another.
Can public attention help in these cases
Of course. Remember the case of Svetlana Davidova. The defence’s job was to get the charges dropped, but only public attention could release her from custody. They released her only thanks to efforts made by the public. Over a weekend we collected more than 50,000 signatures for a petition for her support
Do you understand the logic behind now going after journalists under this law? Indeed, almost 20 years have passed since the Pasko case.
I’m surprised that there haven’t been any similar cases until now. A few years ago there was a trend for scientists to be arrested, they began to take them in large numbers. Well, now it’s you.
You are in the at-risk group: you deal with information, you contact sources and colleagues abroad. Information and connections abroad are enough for someone to end up in the at-risk group. This is all entirely predictable. I’m surprised there haven’t been examples of this earlier.
More from Meduza (links to texts in Russian)
For more information about the prosecutions of scientists:
- The FSB versus a statesman. A new case of treason: a 78-year-old Arctic researcher is suspected of selling secrets to China. He faces up to 20 years in prison.
- They didn’t want him on the ‘Magnitsky list’. 75-year-old scientist Viktor Kudryavtsev was held for a year in a pre-trial detention centre on a charge of treason. They only released him because he had cancer.
For more information about the work of Ivan Pavlov:
For more information about the case of Ivan Safronov: