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'Very Small Quantities' of Free Speech In Modern Russia, Journalist Says

(Washington, DC--February 9, 2005) Freedom of speech in Russia comes in "very small quantities," according to Grigoriy Pasko, a former naval officer and reporter for the Russian Pacific Fleet who spoke to a RFE/RL audience last week about his country's failing judicial system, recent "alterations to democratic laws" and their effect on the media in Russia. Pasko is currently in Washington as a Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution at the Smithsonian Institution's Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, doing research on freedom of information in Russia and the application of laws on state secrets.

Pasko, who has been prosecuted by the Russian government on charges of espionage and treason for his connection to a 1993 filming of a Russian navy tanker dumping radioactive waste and ammunition into the Sea of Japan, explained that as long as "black PR," or smear campaigns, continue to flourish it is impossible that "one little island might remain that is free of corruption" in Russia. It is, therefore, imperative that "every journalist must also be a lawyer," Pasko said. Civil society, non-governmental organizations and ecological defenders are the only structures to withstand the restrictions thus far enacted by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to Pasko, Russia's judiciary system is weak because judges there rarely have prior experience as lawyers. "That is why up to ninety percent of the accused are found guilty," Pasko said, "and that is why I have no illusions about the Russian judicial system." Pasko, whose appeal of his prosecution by Russian officials will be heard by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg this spring, criticized Russian leaders and openly worried that the "enduring masses" might resort to violence if their voices are not heard. "Today the great light in front of us is democracy, but thanks to our leadership this country is headed sideways, not even backwards," Pasko said.

A number of laws about the environment, mass media, and national secrecy were adopted between 1993 and 1995, Pasko said, but implementation of these laws has been undermined by a high level of "unprofessionalism." Pasko also noted that, in the past year, 15 people have been charged under the espionage laws in Russia -- 9 cases alone in the city of Vladivostok.

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