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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Russia Jails Scientists

When Neo-Soviet Russia isn't simply killing people it doesn't like (especially reporters), it slaps them with absurdly fanciful tax charges and drives them into bankruptcy or prison. An alternative, as the Moscow Times reports, is to accuse them of treason, just as the bad old USSR used to do. Ironically, then as now, those accused by the Kremlin of treason are generally much greater patriots than those making the accusations.

Yury Ryzhov is at his wits' end. The Public Committee for the Protection of Scientists, which he heads, has been unable to defend an increasing number of scientists against charges of espionage and illegal technology exports, which the committee regards as unfounded.

"I'm overwhelmed by despair. Nothing helps. I don't know what we are going to do," Ryzhov, a prominent physicist and former ambassador to France, said glumly to a gathering of scientists, defense lawyers and liberal political leaders on Thursday at the Central House of Scientists in central Moscow.

Ryzhov was referring to the high-profile cases of weapons researcher Igor Sutyagin and physicist Valentin Danilov, who were convicted of espionage after working with British and Chinese companies, respectively.

A court in Ufa is expected to issue a verdict on Aug. 2 in the case of Oskar Kaibyshev, the suspended director of the Institute for Metal Superplasticity Problems. Kaibyshev is charged with exporting dual-use technologies to South Korea. Prosecutors have called for a six-year sentence in the case. UPDATE: Kaibyshev received a crushing $132,000 fine and a suspended jail sentence.

The latest major case involves Novosibirsk chemist Oleg Korobeinichev. The Federal Security Service has accused Korobeinichev of divulging state secrets. The chemist has ties to U.S. and European research institutions.

A number of speakers Thursday criticized the Federal Security Service, the lead agency in such cases, for asking the courts to hold espionage trials behind closed doors. The classification of the verdict in Danilov's case "flew in the face of common sense," said Ernst Chyorny, a committee member.

An FSB spokesman made no comment on the committee's accusations, insisting that questions regarding Thursday's meeting be faxed to FSB headquarters.

FSB Deputy Director Yury Gorbunov promised in May that his agency would release more information about such cases in the future. The agency has said nothing about the cases against Kaibyshev and Korobeinichev, however.

Sergei Dzyuba, director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of Chemical Kinetics and Combustion, where Korobeinichev runs a laboratory, said Western grants for scientific work did not pose a threat to national security.

By providing grants, Western foundations are not trying to "buy up scientific achievements on the cheap," but rather to draw researchers into the democratic community, Dzyuba wrote in an article published Wednesday in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

The article appeared to be the institute's first public comment on the Korobeinichev case.

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