Ivan Pavlov on the prosecution of Ivan Safronov. “When we ride in a taxi, several cars follow behind us.”

16 July 2020

Ivan Pavlov, lawyer, leader of Team 29, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Novy Prospekt]

On 16 July, the Moscow Municipal Court took former Vedomosti and Kommersant journalist Ivan Safronov into custody on a charge of state treason. After the proceedings, returning to Petersburg, lawyer Ivan Pavlov gave an interview to Novy Prospekt.

Ivan Pavlov is sure that the Safronov case is a blow against freedom of the press. Otherwise why did the investigation present secret documents at this session in particular, why are the lawyers risking leaving the trial, some having already abandoned it, as attested to by the publication of leaks with the names of figures in the case in state media, and why are they trying to hack lawyers’ accounts and why have they themselves become the object of concerted surveillance?

Ivan Yurievich, on 16 July, new materials appeared in the case that, according to the investigation, answer the questions you raised earlier. You had pointed to the absence of any concrete facts of any kind. Did you get answers to your questions?

Yes, indeed, today the Moscow Municipal Court — in violation of the Criminal Procedural Code, by the way — allowed the investigator to present in appellate court what he was supposed to have presented earlier. Each of the sides may present to the court the proof it has in confirmation of their position only at first instance. At first instance the investigator didn’t present anything to the court. This was done only after objections were raised around the fact that the court of first instance had taken a decision on the basis of nothing.

That is, your words can be interpreted as an announcement about changes in the conduct of the investigation, thanks, among other things, to your interview yesterday for Fontanka?

Thanks, above all, to the work of the journalists who talked about what was going on behind closed doors. About the fact that the court had taken a decision without basis to choose the harshest measure of punishment. The investigation presented exactly nothing to the court to substantiate Ivan Safronov’s participation in the commission of a crime. They just said: He’s guilty. The court swallowed it.

Maybe now some signal came in saying that they actually did have to present at least something, so the investigation presented the court with materials, in classified form, unfortunately. I can’t comment on them. Colleagues have told me what the materials were. However, I have also signed a pledge not to disclose state secrets. Formally, inasmuch as our procedural opponents classified them, I, too, must maintain the confidentiality of this information. In the first place, though, there’s nothing “secret” there. And secondly, these materials in no way confirm the facts asserted by the investigation. Specifically, that Ivan gathered certain classified information for the purpose of conveying it to foreign intelligence and then conveyed it to Czech intelligence.

These few documents, which were simply announced by the investigator (selectively, moreover, fragmentarily), were not even added to the case materials. The investigator simply read them. I doubt he has a sufficiently objective right to present, instead of the court, any documents unless they are examined by the defence. He himself drew attention to individual points. In all likelihood, he wanted to create an impression, to throw sand in people’s eyes by focusing the court’s attention on individual circumstances. Once again, though, what was read out in court has nothing to do with a confirmation of the facts reflected in the decisions to open a criminal case and charge Safronov.

One of the lawyers refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and was removed from the court. What does this mean and how does it affect defence work?

That was Kirill Nikiforov. He is one of the defenders. He refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement in protest against the court violating fundamental norms of criminal procedure, namely the provision that guarantees an adversarial system (during the appeal, the court began to exam the documents that the investigator should have presented in the first instance). Nikiforov did this after agreeing the step with other colleagues and his client. I believe that this was a correct and necessary step. At this point, Ivan wasn’t left on his own, he has several other defenders, who were required to give their signature. But we support our colleague in his protest. 

Another three or four fundamental divergences from the prescribed rules of judcial procedure, and Safronov won’t have any lawyers left.

That won’t happen. Nature abhors a vacuum. Even if they remove my signature tomorrow, and I cannot comment on the case, then someone else will absolutely take my place. We’ll find a qualified colleague to comment on this high profile case, on which a lot depends.

Have the other lawyers familiarised themselves with the materials that appeared only nine days after Safronov was remanded in custody?

Yes, they’ve familiarised themselves with the materials presented by the investigation to the court. But since they are secret, we cannot discuss them. All of us believe that they in no way prove the facts that the investigation is obliged to prove. In particular, the collection of information on the instruction of foreign intelligence and the transfer of this information. We cannot, unfortunately, comment any further than what I’ve said. The documents are classified.

In the court, statements by well-known directors and employees of Russian media organisations giving surety for Ivan Safronov were presented. Are the documents attached to the case? 

Attached to the case wasn’t a list of guarantors but all personal guarantees and character witnesses which had been collected by the defence in relation to Ivan. The documents were signed by directors and journalists of leading media organisations in Russia. Character witness statements were given by all the organisations where Ivan had worked or studied (in particular, the Higher School of Economics). The dean and those professors who had taught him gave extremely positive remarks. All these materials were enclosed with the materials of the investigation.

You announced that the lawyers have been put under surveillance.  How did you discover this, and who are these people?

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t very difficult to figure out. A car is constantly on Evgeny Smirmov’s and my heels, they walk behind us, and they sit next to us when we stop at a café.   I think they are from the intelligence services.  It’s clear it’s not the police.  Not the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It’s an organization that goes by three letters. One can only guess why they are doing it.  Perhaps it’s to frighten us.  Perhaps they are trying to find out some information that is covered by attorney-client privilege.  In any case, we see it and we talk about it. In no way do we provoke them. But when we ride in a taxi, several cars follow behind us.  It is not paranoia.  It isn’t the first time we have encountered such escorts when dealing with cases of this nature.

When all the lawyers for the defence were riding from court to the train station today, we all noted at the same time attempts to hack our accounts. All the lawyers received text messages, some even calls, that too many services were connected to the subscriber’s number and that the number was being blocked.  But we weren’t born yesterday. As early as the more liberal 1990s – when there was perhaps less law and order on the streets, but the courts worked better – we tried to petition the courts to declare such actions illegal.  But the intelligence services are the intelligence services.  Consequently, all our efforts to challenge these attacks did not get the proper attention of the oversight authorities, including the courts.

Brutal actions don’t do credit to the intelligence services.  Even organizations like the FSB. Basically, the security services in Russia have been seized by a full-fledged spymania. Literally everyone is under threat who in any fashion works with information.

You named a specific agency to our colleagues at Kommersant -– Directorate “P” (Directorate of Counterintelligence Support for Fighting Corruption in Industry) of the Economic Security Service of the FSB.

I simply told your colleagues that we suspect who it is. That it is one of the special subdivisions of the FSB.

Were your fellow travellers also with you on the train to St. Petersburg?  

There was a time they watched us not only in Moscow but in our home city of St. Petersburg.  They showed up no matter where we went. We were accompanied everywhere. This was at the beginning of 2020, when one of our clients, Karina Tsurkan, was released from custody. In January and February, she was free for a short period of time. The intelligence service nevertheless got her returned to the pre-trial detention centre. During her period of freedom, we found that we were under surveillance, as was she. These are the customary and unpleasant circumstances attendant upon this type of case. It doesn’t matter. We can deal with it.

Was Ivan present at the meeting by video link?

Ivan was present in the courtroom. It wasn’t a video link.

Might your meeting  with Safronov be the next legal procedural stage?

 Next week we will try to meet with him in the detention centre. As for the court hearings, they will now be in August. Not before then.

Previously commenting on the lack of specific details, you stated that you consider the actions in the investigation asretribution against all journalists who write and conduct their investigations honestly.” Have you changed your opinion at all?

We believed, and we still believe, that the investigation has not fulfilled its procedural duty. They did not prove in court the facts that they were obliged to prove. Namely, Ivan’s involvement in committing the crime of collecting (for the purpose of transmitting) and transmitting information to foreign intelligence. The information that was presented to the court on the appeal, although secret, does not represent the results of operational investigational activities, and do not confirm these allegations.

On the evening of Thursday, 16th  July, a few hours after the end of the court session, TASS reported that Safronov had previously met several times with a Czech citizen, a journalist of the newspaper Lidove  Noviny, and “a staff member of the Czech special services” Martin Larish.  A source has  told the state news agency, “Larish worked in Moscow in 2010-2012 as a journalist for the newspaper Lidove  Noviny, and later headed the Centre for Security Analysis and Prevention, which prepares reports on security in Eastern Europe and Africa.  The activities of this centre are closely related to the work of the Czech special services, and Larish himself is one of their staff members.” Regular communication with Safronov is confirmed by photos on social networks, posted anonymously. What do you think about that?

The defence has not yet been notified and has no information that Martin Larish is an employee of the Czech special services. In the documents that have been presented to us, this person is not mentioned in any way. But the fact that TASS received such information from some source (probably the same law enforcement agencies) can be considered as a disclosure of state secrets. After all, all these documents are hidden from us under the guise of state secrets.

Background, compiled by Novyi Prospekt

30-year-old Ivan Safronov, a journalist and adviser to the head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin, was detained on 7 July 2020 on his way to work. As the FSB reported on the day of the arrest, Safronov allegedly “collected, and transmitted to a representative of the special services of one of the NATO countries, information about military-technical cooperation, the defence and the security of Russia, constituting a state secret.”

Within Roscosmos it was reported that Safronov had no access to classified information. The defence counsel of the former writer at Vedomosti and Kommersant directly links the prosecution to Safronov’s professional journalistic activities. He also wrote about top state officials and the Russian Federation’s military resources abroad. At the FSB Institute of Forensic Science, they found no sign of the disclosure of any secrets in his journalistic works.

Ivan Safronov is the son of a journalist. He continued the work of this father Ivan Safronov Senior, who also wrote about military resources and died in unexplained circumstances in 2007. Rallies in support of Ivan Safronov have previously ended with the arrests of participants in single pickets outside the walls of Lefortovo. 67,000 people signed a petition in support of the demand for openness at the trial. Journalists are signing up to the open letter “Journalism is not a crime!”

Material written by Ivan Safronov for Kommersant is available on the newspaper’s website. The best material he wrote for Vedomosti is available on the newspaper’s website.

Ivan Pavlov is a 49 year-old Russian lawyer and a graduate of the Law Faculty of St. Petersburg State University. He has been a practising lawyer since 1997. In 1998-2004, he was the head of the human rights environmental organization Bellona in St. Petersburg. From 2004, he was the head of the Freedom of Information Foundation for 10 years. After ending up on the register of ‘foreign agent’ NGOs, the fund suspended its work.

Since 2015, he has been leading the “Team 29” team of lawyers. Article 29 of the Russian Constitution guarantees “freedom of thought and speech”, prohibits propaganda, censorship and coercion to express opinions and beliefs or to reject them, and guarantees the right “freely to seek, receive, transmit, produce and distribute information in any legal way”. Team 29 provides assistance on such issues, and conducts educational work on the history of the development of the regulation of freedom of speech.

In 2015, Pavlov was one of those who unsuccessfully challenged Vladimir Putin’s decree on classifying information about military losses in peacetime in the Supreme Court. Pavlov defended environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin when the latter was accused of treason. Nikitin was acquitted on all counts. He defended journalist Grigory Pasko, and GRU military intelligence service veteran Gennady Kravtsov, and the former director of the Library of Ukrainian Literature in Moscow. He represents in court the interests of the relatives of the Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, who saved tens of thousands of Jews from the Holocaust during the Second World War, and died in the Lubyanka prison after he was arrested by Smersh in 1945.

He represented the interests of the staff of human rights organizations, and defended a former employee of the “troll factory”, obtaining legal compensation for a woman who was fired after telling the media about the existence of a propaganda project on Russian social networks. He is the winner of the 2015 Moscow Helsinki Group Prize in the field of human rights protection “for defending human rights in court”.

Translated by Marian Schwartz, Mercedes Malcomson, John Tokolish, Graham Jones and Anna Bowles

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