Conviction fuels fears for academic freedom

April 16, 2004

The conviction of a Moscow arms control researcher for high treason has raised fears of renewed Soviet-style restrictions on academic freedom and foreign links.

Igor Sutyagin of Moscow's USA-Canada Institute was last week sentenced to 15 years in prison after being found guilty of selling secrets to the US.

Mr Sutyagin, in prison since his arrest in October 1999, admitted writing a report on Russia's weapons capabilities for a British company, Alternative Futures.

Russia's security service, the FSB, claimed the report contained classified information and that the company was a front for the CIA.

But, after he was sentenced, Mr Sutyagin told judge Marina Komarova that he was guilty of nothing more than having contacts with foreigners. His sources were books and newspapers, mostly published abroad, he said.

Mr Sutyagin's lawyers plan to appeal to the Russian supreme court and may turn to the European Court of Human Rights. They condemned the judge for partisan direction of the jury.

Alexander Petrov, deputy director of Moscow's Human Rights Watch, said the verdict had sent a "chill through the Russian academic community".

Victoria Baxter, a senior associate with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, said: "The prosecution suggested that his research conclusions were so accurate that he must have used classified materials.

He has been found guilty on the grounds of conducting good research."

Valentin Danilov, acquitted last December of selling secrets to the Chinese, said that, given Russia's arcane laws, it was possible that Mr Sutyagin had technically breached official secrets rules.

The Committee for the Defence of Scientists plans to appeal to the president.

In advance of the conviction the Canadian Association of University Teachers wrote to President Vladimir Putin requesting the case be dismissed for lack of evidence.

"Our concern has been that this looks to be a violation of academic freedom," said spokesman David Robinson, who told The Times Higher the CAUT had been worried about the issue of due process and whether there had been a fair trial.

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