KRASNOYARSK, November 13 (RIA Novosti) – A district court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk paroled on Tuesday a Russian physicist who was imprisoned in 2004 for selling classified research data to China.
“The court has paroled Valentin Danilov for the duration of the remaining sentence – three years, two months and 11 days,” the court’s press secretary Maria Fomushina told RIA Novosti.
“Danilov plans to move and settle in Novosibirsk after he is released.” Fomushina told RIA Novosti. Danilov will be freed from jail in ten days if the prosecutors don’t appeal the ruling.
The prosecutors could not be reached for comment, but given that they backed the parole in court, they are unlikely to appeal.
A criminal case against Daniliov was launched in 2000 on charges of espionage and embezzlement. Danilov’s research dealt with the effect of solar activity on satellites.
The investigation found that Danilov passed the results of research conducted for the Russian Defense Ministry to officials in the All-China Import-Export Company Precision Engineering and the Lanzhou Institute of Physics in 1999.
In 2001, Danilov was charged with embezzling 466,000 rubles ($16,200) from the sum paid by China to his employers, the Krasnoyarsk Technical University. Danilov denied the allegations.
He was kept in a pre-trial detention center from February 2001 until October 2002 but was cleared by a jury of all charges during a trial in December 2003.
The Supreme Court cancelled the jury verdict in June 2004 and sent his case for retrial. Danilov was sentenced in November 2004 to 14 years in a maximum-security prison. The sentence was later reduced by one year.
The scientist consistently maintained that the information he was accused of selling had been available in scientific journals and had been declassified for over 10 years.
In 2011, the Krasnoyarsk court rejected Danilov's appeal to be moved from a maximum-security prison to a general-population penal colony.
Back in 2004, human rights activists called Danilov’s case another example of the "spy mania" that swept Russia after Vladimir Putin came to power. Within several years, Russian law enforcement opened a string of treason and espionage investigations against scientists and environmentalists.
Another case involved arms analyst Igor Sutyagin, a scholar at Moscow's USA and Canada Institute who was accused of passing secrets to a London-based firm and sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2004. He was later pardoned and released as part of a spy-swap for 10 Russian sleeper agents caught in the US in 2010, but Russia's Supreme Court upheld his 15-year sentence in September.
Human rights activists welcomed Danilov’s parole on Tuesday. “I’m happy. We’ve been seeking the release of both Sutyagin and Danilov for years,” Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, told RIA Novosti. She insisted that he was innocent of all charges.
But this ruling comes at a time when observers have voiced fears that Russia faces another wave of "spy mania." These speculations have been fuelled by a new law requiring NGOs receiving financing from abroad to register as ‘foreign agents’ comes into effect later this month, and amendments to the law on treason that have already been passed making it easier to target people for collaborating with international organizations.
“Even Danilov’s release is a political decision,” human rights advocate Lev Ponomaryov said in a telephone interview. “The authorities are trying to manoeuver by playing good cop, bad cop,” Ponomaryov added.
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