Russian Physicist Igor Sutyagin Released at Last
July 15, 2010
On Thursday, July 8, 2010, after serving more than 10 years of a 15-year prison sentence, Russian physicist and arms control researcher Igor Sutyagin was released from prison as part of a prisoner exchange between Russia and the United States. Early last week Dr. Sutyagin was suddenly moved from a remote prison in the northern region of Arkhangelsk where he was serving his lengthy sentence to Lefortovo prison in Moscow. He was informed by Russian authorities of plans to exchange him and several other Russians convicted of espionage for a group recently arrested in the United States on charges of spying for Russia. Dr. Sutyagin was permitted to meet with his family and was told that, in order to be included in the prisoner exchange, he would be required to sign a document stating that he was guilty of espionage. Although Dr. Sutyagin has always maintained his innocence of any wrongdoing, his family and lawyer stated that he made the very difficult decision to sign the statement because his health had deteriorated significantly and he could not face the prospect of spending another four and a half years in the "harsh regime" prison where he had been serving his sentence. His lawyer, Anna Stavitskaya, told the press that "Sutyagin agreed to the swap offer as he had no other choice left. He knew that otherwise his whole life would be broken." The prisoner exchange took place on an airport tarmac in Vienna, Austria. Dr. Sutyagin was then flown to London where he is confined in a hotel by British authorities until a decision is made about whether he will remain in the United Kingdom. The CHR undertook Dr. Sutyagin's case in 2004 and made many efforts over the years through a number of different avenues to gain his release from prison. Like Amnesty International, the CHR believes that his conviction was politically motivated and that his trial failed to meet international fair trial standards.
Dr. Sutyagin is a Russian arms control specialist with advanced degrees in physics and history. He wrote more than 100 articles and books on military policy, nuclear weapons, and nonproliferation treaties in Russia, the United States, and Asia. From 1989 until his arrest 10 years later, he worked for the Russian Academy of Sciences' USA and Canada Institute. To supplement his salary from the Institute, he also regularly worked, on a freelance basis, for a number of organizations and publications abroad, including a consulting firm, Alternative Futures, based in the United Kingdom. He was arrested on October 27, 1999, and, the following month, was formally charged with treason for allegedly passing on state secrets, including classified information, to two members of Alternative Futures, who, according to the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB), were actually members of "the U.S. military intelligence agency" working undercover. After numerous delays, he was brought to trial in late 2001. Although the court found that the charges were incomprehensible and thus it was impossible for Dr. Sutyagin to defend himself and that the evidence presented was insufficient to warrant prosecution, it did not dismiss the case. Instead the court ruled that Dr. Sutyagin was to remain in detention while the case was returned to the FSB to investigate and bring charges a second time. In March 2004 he was brought to trial again, this time in Moscow, and the proceedings were closed. Although Dr. Sutyagin never had access to classified information, he was able to document that all the information in his reports came from publicly available documents, and the substance of the prosecution’s case remained the same as in the first trial, he was convicted of high treason and sentenced to 15-years in prison. Following his conviction, Dr. Sutyagin submitted his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). After a detailed examination of his case, the ECHR unanimously declared that the majority of his complaints were admissible and that his case warranted examination on its merits. Unfortunately, despite that the case was submitted in 2004, it has not yet been heard by the court.
During the years Dr. Sutyagin was imprisoned, CHR correspondents and members of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies sent him dozens of cards and letters of encouragement. In a video interview with Amnesty International, he explained how important these letters were to him, saying:
[Receiving letters of support] was very very important for me and for my family, to know that we are not alone in this world, that people believed in my innocence.