Physicist accused of selling secrets stands for election

October 17, 2003

The Russian physicist being tried for selling secrets to China is to put academic freedom in the political spotlight by standing for election to the state parliament on a protest ticket, writes Nick Holdsworth.

Valentin Danilov, the latest Russian academic to be accused of espionage, hoped legal proceedings against him would be suspended to allow him to campaign in December's nationwide poll.

This would allow him to highlight free speech and environmental issues.

Dr Danilov, head of thermo-physics at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, is charged with selling state secrets to China. His trial - one of the first Russian spy cases to be heard before a jury - began in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk two weeks ago.

The physicist spent 19 months in jail before he was released on bail a year ago pending the hearing.

He was accused of signing a contract with the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology to provide a report on space propulsion techniques. He denied this contained classified information and said the evidence presented by prosecutors, KGB successor the Federal Security Service, relied on information more than 20 years out of date.

Dr Danilov's plight has been championed by academics abroad, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In Russia, Nobel laureate Vitaly Ginzburg spoke out in his support earlier this year.

But Dr Danilov told The THES that his decision to seek election -which would not confer immunity from prosecution - was motivated less by a desire to publicise his predicament than by a wish to champion ecological issues.

"Russia is in a position to make a major contribution to tackling global warming and ecological issues," he said. "It's already obvious that I shall spend the rest of my life fighting for free science."

The case could take up to two months. Dr Danilov said he had confidence in the fairness of the proceedings but was less sure about the outcome. "I can't say I am entirely confident the jury will be fair," he said.

Meanwhile, in another high-profile espionage case against a Russian academic, Igor Sutyagin, an arms-control researcher at Moscow's US and Canada Institute, jury selection was due to begin in early November. Pavel Podvig, a Princeton University researcher close to Dr Sutyagin, said he was in good spirits and planned a vigorous defence.

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