#IndexAwards2001: Grigory Pasko, Whistleblower of the Year


Grigory Pasko

Grigory Pasko, was named Whistleblower of the Year at the 2001 Freedom of Expression Awards.

Grigory Pasko, a former naval officer and journalist for Russian Pacific Fleet newspaper Boyevaya Vakhta (Battle Watch), was imprisoned in 1997 after exposing Russia’s navy for illegally dumping nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan. He was arrested on charges of espionage and abuse of his official power as a former officer in the Russian navy.

Pasko was the winner of Index on Censorship’s International Whistleblower of the Year award in 2001.

Pasko spent 20 months in prison awaiting his first trial, and on 20 July 1999 he was acquitted of most of the charges. However, he was sentenced to three years in prison for abusing his authority as a naval officer. Pasko was finally released from prison under an amnesty in January 2003.

Although Russia’s 1990 Law on the Mass Media [1991] states that journalists are allowed to carry on investigations and Article 29 of the Russian Constitution bans censorship altogether, journalists are often persecuted for their work and subject to governmental harassment.

In March 2011, Pasko, along with his colleagues Igor Korolkov and Galina Sidorova, created an international NGO called the Community of Investigative Journalists – Foundation 19/29. The numbers 19 and 29 refer to the freedom of expression Articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Russian Constitution.

Foundation 19/29 was created to provide guidance and assistance to Russian investigative reporters and bloggers who are in trouble due to their work and/or want to develop their professional skills.

Since his release from jail, Pasko has been campaigning for human rights and protection of the environment.

Index: How much more difficult is it now to be an informant than 16 years ago when you won the Index for Censorship International Whistleblower?

Pasko: The word “difficult” is no longer suitable. It is practically impossible without being detected and not “registered”. “To put on the register” means that suddenly there can be some difficulties: with obtaining a passport (as now at Dadin); with departure abroad; allegedly with non-payment of fines, taxes and so on; it can come with an apartment search or arrest (Mark Halperin recently) … Previously, this happened very rarely.

Index: What major projects are you currently working on and how does this differ from your work when you won the Index Awards?

Pasko: Since 2009, I have been engaged in teaching activities in the field of investigative journalism – journalists are, in fact, banned in Russia. Therefore, I am persecuted in all cities of Russia and in Moscow. I’m being squeezed out of the country, not giving me the opportunity to work. Our organization – Fund 19/29 http://foundation19-29.com/ was recognized as a “foreign agent” so that we had to stop our activities. Now there is a Fund 19/29, but already in Prague. In the same place, we conduct our training activities. In general, almost all independent NGOs are subject to harassment in Russia.

Index: How do you think the Russian government manages the information landscape? How does social media play a certain role in this?

Pasko: The Russian government (FSB, mostly) almost completely manages the information landscape. Those media and their blogs that still exist, for sure (if they are smart and sober) do not consider themselves independent, because they can be closed within a day. They are just allowed to exist. Social networks are relatively free so far. But they also gradually fall under the total dependence of the state (FSB). So the other day it happened with LiveJournal.

Index: What do you think, what will be the future for journalists in Russia?

Pasko: Independents will be persecuted, squeezed out of Russia, and those who remain will be imprisoned and / or killed. Independent journalism will not remain in the legal and free field. Only underground, in networks. The angry propaganda will occupy the entire information field.

Index: How did your attack in Siberia in September 2016 affect you?

Pasko: Personally, it did not. After two convictions and two imprisonments, I can only be killed, but not scared. But our partners in the regions were frightened and less likely to invite us to conduct studies on investigative journalism, despite the fact that there is a demand among young journalists, civil journalists and bloggers for this genre.

Index: Do you have any advice for other investigative journalists and informers working under a dangerously authoritarian regime?

Pasko: Be careful. Because no work should cost a human life. And, strangely enough, be bold – in the mass of its leadership of Russia (Chekists) are not only deceitful, but also cowardly. We need to learn to resist them – from the standpoint of legality, justice, respect for human rights and generally common sense. Journalism is a wonderful and necessary profession, and it deserves to be fought for by the journalists themselves.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_single_image image=”85476″ img_size=”full” alignment=”center” onclick=”custom_link” link=”https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2016/11/awards-2017/”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]

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Whistleblower Grigory Pasko: “Russian public will feel a need for the truth”

Former naval officer and journalist Grigory Pasko risked everything to uncover environmental degradation committed by the Russian Navy. (Photo: robertamsterdam.com)

Former naval officer and journalist Grigory Pasko risked everything to uncover environmental degradation committed by the Russian Navy. (Photo: robertamsterdam.com)

In the 1990s, Grigory Pasko, a former naval officer and journalist, reported that Russia’s navy was dumping nuclear waste in the Sea of Japan (East Sea). After a series of articles exposing the environmental crimes, Russian federal security service agents arrested him in 1997, on charges of espionage and abuse of his official power. He was tried several times and eventually sentenced in December 2001 to four years of imprisonment for espionage. He was finally released in January 2003.

Pasko is one of many journalists who has been targeted by the Russian government. He says that freedom of speech and media in the country today, is not that different from when he was named International Whistleblower of the Year at the Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards 13 years ago.

“It is just the same blatant rule by the security services, the same totalitarianism and lack of democratic institutions,” Pasko told Index in an email exchange.

Investigative journalists, in particular, are scarce in the current Russian environment, though the 1990 Law on the Mass Media [1991] states that journalists are allowed to carry on investigations. Article 29 of the Russian Constitution bans censorship altogether. However, under Vladimir Putin’s administration, Pasko said that press freedom and new, economically independent media have disappeared in favor of blatant propaganda.

Nominations for the 2015 Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards close on 20 Nov.

Who will you nominate? A journalist? A digital activist? A campaigning organisation? An artist? Or all four?

“Investigative journalism barely exists as a genre in Russia,” Pasko said. “Journalists in our country are killed and put in prison.”

In March 2011, Pasko and his colleagues, Galina Sidorova and Igor Korolkov, established the Foundation for Investigative Journalism as a way to help professional and citizen journalists alike, as well as to create open discussion and respect for the law. It maintains “zero tolerance towards corruption in all forms”.

“Our goal is to help those who pursue this form of journalism,” Pasko said. “So far we have held schools in investigative journalism for journalists and bloggers in many towns throughout Russia. Unfortunately, funds from our sponsors limit us to holding only three such schools a year.”

Pasko said the foundation aims to teach journalists “to be free. To obey the law. To help the democratic development of journalism in Russia. To know how to use the rights they have been given by the constitution and the law. Not to be afraid.”

In a bleak time for journalists and a free media, Pasko said there is always hope for a brighter, freer future.

“The Russian public will feel a need for the truth, just as it has a need to drink fresh not stagnant water,” Pasko said. “Then society will have a need for independent free journalists. Our task and our goal meanwhile are not to let them disappear and keep the genre of investigative journalism alive.”

This article was posted on 17 Nov 2014 at indexoncensorship.org

Storm in a jam jar

The sacking of Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov this week brings an end to a long-running feud between the Kremlin and Moscow city government. Grigory Pasko watches as a well-known enemy of free speech cries foul

Yuri Luzhkov, the now former mayor of Moscow, has written a letter to President Medvedev. And it is now clear that Medvedev fired Luzhkov from his post for… journalism. Luzhkov, the journalist, wrote the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in his letter to Medvedev, the guarantor of the constitution: “The reason for the attack were articles in Moskovsky Komsomolets and Rossiyskaya Gazeta. I’ll be honest, it was not I who wrote the article in Moskovsky Komsolets. But I do agree with it. Persecuting the mayor for agreeing with an article?”

Admitting plagiarism, asking rhetorical questions and writing about oneself in the third person – these are all signs of a high level of internal agitation, of course. And it goes without saying that, as a creative person, Luzhkov simply had to bring up that infamous year of 1937, the time of Stalin’s purge, when, in the opinion of the author, there existed in our country a “fear of expressing one’s opinion”. Well, since Luzhkov has decided to bring up 1937, I thought to myself, then that famous Russian metaphor of power, the jar of spiders, serves no purpose (the struggle for power has been known since time immemorial as the struggle of spiders in a jar).

And so here I sit, a journalist who has worked 33 years in the profession, and I am searching for the words to defend Luzhkov-the-journalist. I am not having much success, because the image of Luzhkov that has built up in my mind over the years is not a very positive one: he played the loyal yes-man to Putin in all of the latter’s dirty deeds; created the monster-monopolist party of United Russia; prohibited gay-pride parades; dispersed all kinds of dissenters’ protests with truncheons (i.e. violated the constitution).

In his letter to Medvedev, Luzhkov hints that he just might join the opposition: they have pushed him into such a corner (just where did he find any corners in that jar?) that there can be only one way out – into the arms of the opposition. Luzhkov-the-writer, however, is not in agreement with the opposition and calls its leaders “all those Nemtsovs over there”. [Boris Nemtsov, former reformist minister of Yeltsin]. Luzhkov the man who joined the opposition – now that’s really something! Much more exotic than “doctor of philosophical sciences Zhirinovsky” or “Zyuganov who joined the opposition”.

Luzhkov-the-journalist also managed to bring up the matter of censorship: he hurled a brave and directly aimed accusation about its existence right at the president himself. And immediately added for effect that Medvedev is a weak president, after which Medvedev immediately fired him. Because weak people (and Medvedev is most definitely such a person) very much dislike it when someone reminds them of this. It would be the same as telling Putin that he is a coward – you can immediately expect to hear some kind of unpleasant squeaked retort about circumcision or the ears of a dead donkey.

How can we not defend such a man, o citizens? Courageous and wise, decisive and, no need to be ashamed to admit it, a person of talent. All the more so given that, as he himself admitted, he wrote the article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the mouthpiece of the Russian government, himself. That is just what he tells the president: you asked – I wrote. After all, it was you yourselves that fell over my truthful and courageous political-essayist’s and castigator’s pen.

Here, it is true, one inopportunely recalls how this writer/political essayist/castigator had himself on many an occasion prosecuted fellow wordsmiths in his courts. But Luzhkov is now so pitiful and miserable that one wants to defend him. Decisively and immediately. To gently pat him on his bald head; to wipe away the tenacious tear, as big as a drop of honey; to utter a kind word… Maybe even – put up a monument to him, the great one. Something he no doubt has always silently hoped for.

<strong>Translated by Stephan Lang</strong>

<em>Grigory Pasko is a celebrated Russian journalist and a former Amnesty prisoner of conscience, following his arrest and imprisonment in 1997. He was awarded the Index International Whistleblower award in 2001 and the Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize in 2007</em>