Laureate 2002: Grigory Pasko

Grigorij Pasko

Grigory Pasko
Russian journalist Grigory Pasko reported on the ocean disposal of chemical and nuclear waste by the Russian navy in the Sea of Japan and was convicted of high treason and espionage.

Media Award for a journalist "with backbone and style"

The imprisoned Russian military journalist Grigory Pasko was honored with the Media Foundation of the Sparkasse Leipzig’s "Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media" on the evening of 2 May. Pasko was singled out for his reporting on illegal nuclear waste disposal by the Russian military.

The 39-year-old could not pick up his prize of 12,500 euros in person, because on the eve of World Press Freedom Day Pasko is sitting in custody in Vladivostok, accused of spying. The "St. Nicholas Column" sculpture was presented instead to his wife Galina Mikhailovna Morotsova

"The prize is meant for journalists who courageously fight for freedom of the press," said Hartwig Hochstein, deputy chairman of the board of the Media Foundation, explaining the significance of the award.

In his eulogy, Russia expert Thomas Roth paid tribute to Grigory Pasko as a man with "backbone and style." "He is every inch a democratic journalist," said Roth. The director of German television broadcaster ARD’s Berlin studio used the opportunity to appeal to German politicians not to ignore abuses in the Russian media. "Nothing should be taboo," the journalist added.

Grigorij Pasko 2
Grigory Pasko (Photo: WDR)

The Pasko case

The military journalist Pasko is a ranking officer (Captain 2nd Class) and was given the task by Russian navy leaders in the early 1990s of reporting on environmental offenses by the military. He repeatedly ran into walls of silence, but nonetheless made a startling discovery: in 1993 Pasko filmed an operation in which the navy illegally dumped radioactive and chemical waste into the Sea of Japan. The film was shown on Japanese state television.

That’s when the "Pasko Case" began. Starting in 1997 military prosecutors and Russia’s domestic secret service, the FSB, attempted to put an end to the unwelcome truth-seeker’s career as a journalist. The initial charge was "treason" or "disclosing military secrets." Ultimately they concocted a scenario in which national security interests were threatened by reporting altogether.

Twenty-one months of pretrial detention could not break Pasko’s will, however. He refused an amnesty after being convicted. Pasko wanted acquittal and was entitled to it by law. Yet the military court of appeal in Vladivostok saw things differently and sentenced the journalist to four years of prison camp in December 2001 because of alleged espionage.

For Amnesty International, the "Pasko Case" opened up a new chapter in restriction of freedom of expression in Russia. As early as 1998, with the case of navy captain Alexander Nikitin in St. Petersburg, attempts were made to suspend freedom of speech with regard to the heated issue of nuclear waste. The most recent event to underscore the obstruction of freedom of speech in Russia is the shutting down of state-run TV 6, the last national television station critical of the government.

In 2003, Pasko was released from prison. Because of a severe adhesion-related disease, he had to be treated in Germany in 2008.

In 2007, he received the special prize of the "Erich-Maria-Remarque-Friedenspreis" ("Erich-Maria-Remarque-Peace-Prize") for his prison diary The Red Zone.

- The red zone - a prison diary (2006)
- Honey Cake - a guide to survive behind bars (2006)
- Buried At Sea - film about the Nord Stream pipeline (2009)
- Why don't you write what I see? - interview with Grigory Pasko about dependence and venality of the press under Putin (2007)

For more on Grigory Pasko, see Thomas Roth’s Russisches Tagebuch (Russian Diary) published by List publishing house in 2002.