Russian Physicist Valentin Danilov Released on Parole
November 28, 2012
On November 24, 2012, after serving more than nine years in prison in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, Russian physicist Valentin Danilov was released on parole. He had served more than two-thirds of his 13-year prison sentence and thus was eligible to apply for parole in accordance with Russian legislation. Professor Danilov was dropped off by prison officials before sunrise outside a factory on the outskirts of the city, where a taxicab picked him up and drove him into the city center. Two days later, he traveled by train to Novosibirsk, where he and his wife will be living. Professor Danilov spent most of his youth in Novosibirsk, and his wife moved there while he was in prison. At a news conference following his release, he said that for now he plans to rest and recover his health. During his imprisonment, Professor Danilov had a heart attack and developed chronic heart and teeth problems which worsened over time as a result of his harsh prison conditions.
Professor Danilov is a physicist who, at the time of his arrest, was head of the Thermo-Physics Centre at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University. He was arrested in February 2001 on charges of espionage and fraud for allegedly selling classified satellite information to a Chinese company and scientific institute with which his university had a legal contract. He was also accused of fraud for allegedly embezzling 460,000 rubles (approximately U.S. $15,000) of the money earned for the project. Professor Danilov maintained that all of the information that he shared with the Chinese company and institute was available in scientific journals and had been declassified for more than 10 years, and his colleagues at the university have supported his claim. He also testified that the 460,000 rubles given to him—as signatory of the legal contract between his university and the Chinese organizations—was used to pay a part of the money owed to the project’s contractors.
Professor Danilov spent one and a half years in pretrial detention. In spring 2002 a regional court ruled that he could be released on bail, but his family was unable to raise the necessary funds. The American Physical Society successfully campaigned to raise the U.S. $4,000 bail money from contributions by several dozen U.S. scientists. Professor Danilov was released on his own recognizance in September 2002.
Professor Danilov’s trial began in October 2003 and reportedly was the first espionage trial in Russia ever to be decided by a jury. On December 30, 2003, the court found him innocent on all seven counts of espionage and fraud charges that had been brought against him, and he was fully exonerated. The prosecution subsequently appealed the verdict on procedural grounds, alleging that the defense lawyers had pressured the jury. In June 2004, Russia’s Supreme Court overturned Professor Danilov’s acquittal and ordered a retrial. The court’s decision, a seven-page document, reportedly was produced by the judges after only fifteen minutes of deliberation and was widely criticized in Russia and abroad.
Professor Danilov’s second trial, before the same court but with a new judge and jury, began in September 2004 and was closed. Although the charges brought against him rested largely on the question of whether or not the information he gave to the Chinese organizations was classified and thus ”secret,” the jury was forbidden to examine this issue. It was permitted only to determine whether Professor Danilov had transferred information—something that he did openly, under the guidelines of a legal contract, and has never denied. On November 10, at the request of the prosecutor’s office, Professor Danilov was placed in custody in the courtroom. On November 17 the jury found him guilty of espionage for allegedly selling aerospace technology to China. The court ruled that the information Professor Danilov had passed to China included “state secrets” and sentenced him to 14 years in a maximum security prison, to be shortened by 19 months for time already served in pre-trial detention. The judge also ruled that Professor Danilov had defrauded Krasnoyarsk State Technical State University of 460,000 rubles and ordered him to pay the money back to the University.
Professor Danilov appealed his conviction in Russian courts on the basis of procedural violations, including that several jurors had access to classified information and that the court had not taken into account a number of written testimonies that demonstrated he had not divulged state secrets. On June 29, 2005, Russia’s Supreme Court confirmed Professor Danilov’s conviction, but shortened his prison term by one year. He and his lawyers filed a complaint about the handling of his case with the European Court of Human Rights, which has yet to hear the case.
The CHR undertook Professor Danilov’s case more than eight years ago, shortly after he was imprisoned. The Committee, its Correspondents, and members of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies wrote several dozen individual letters to high-level Russian officials appealing for his release from prison.