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4 Held in Pasko Demonstration

The Moscow Times, Jan. 9, 2002.

Combined Reports

Police briefly detained four people Monday after they took part in a demonstration against the conviction for treason of journalist and former navy captain Grigory Pasko, NTV television reported.

NTV said the four were among 50 protesters gathered on Lubyanka Square outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, which once housed the KGB, to demand Pasko's release. The four received summons to appear in court Wednesday, Interfax reported.

Pasko was convicted last month for illegally attending a secret meeting of Pacific Fleet commanders in 1997 and possessing notes he made at the meeting. Pasko has said authorities are pursuing him for exposing alleged environmental abuses by the navy, including dumping radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan.

Human rights organizers have denounced the verdict in a retrial and Pasko's lawyers have vowed to appeal, as has a military prosecutor, who described the sentence as too lenient.

The protesters wrote the word "ecology" in the snow and carried a sign saying, "Pasko named a spy. Who next?" Police asked them to take down the sign 16 minutes after the protest began, Interfax said. The demonstration lasted half an hour.

NTV said police had allowed the protest to take place and then held the four briefly on charges of taking part in an illegal demonstration.

At the rally, Sergei Mitrokhin, deputy leader of the Yabloko party, called for more attention to be given to the case and pleaded with Russian leaders to "restore justice," Interfax said.

Amnesty International has labeled Pasko a "prisoner of conscience" and said his conviction was a violation of his right to freedom of expression.

In a statement Monday, the human rights group said Pasko's conviction "chills legitimate inquiry into matters of public interest" and called for his immediate release.

Also Monday, a press watchdog urged President Vladimir Putin to release Pasko. In a letter to the president, the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers said Pasko's conviction "constitutes a clear breach of his right to freedom of expression."

The press watchdog defends and promotes press freedom worldwide. It represents 17,000 newspapers and its membership includes 63 national newspaper associations and 17 news agencies. (AP, Reuters)

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