A Russian court has paroled a physicist convicted in 2004 of spying for China, a case human rights activists said was an example of Vladimir Putin‘s use of the courts against opponents.
Campaigners welcomed the three-year reduction of Valentin Danilov’s 14-year sentence but said it did not signal the president would halt what they say is the Kremlin’s practice of using the judiciary to stifle dissent.
In his 60s, Danilov is expected to be freed in 10 days. He watched the hearing from his prison in Siberia’s Krasnoyarsk region by videolink.
“I think he was quite shocked when he heard the opinion of the prosecutor who… supported the appeal [for early release],” his lawyer Yelena Yevmenova said on NTV television.
He and other scientists had said the satellite technology data he passed to China more than a decade ago was declassified and that the case was politically motivated.
The Kremlin has denied influencing the courts and says it is wrong to describe the treatment of Putin’s opponents as a clampdown on dissent.
The hearing had been postponed several times because of ill-health, state-run channel Rossiya said. Bespectacled with greying hair, he looked frail but alert in televised archive footage taken between 2001 and 2004.
He will be freed unless the ruling is challenged but will remain on parole for the rest of his term.
“Danilov has already served two-thirds of this term, behaved well,” said Maria Fomushina, spokesman for the court. “The decision also took into account his health condition.”
She gave no details of his health, nor did his lawyer.
Danilov, who was first arrested in 2001, was a researcher at Krasnoyarsk State University. He admitted selling information about satellite technology to a Chinese company but said the information had already been available from public sources.
An initial decision to acquit him was overturned and he was sentenced in a second trial.