A jury in Siberia found a Russian scientist guilty Friday of illegally passing documents to China, the latest ruling in a lengthy case in which the defendant was first acquitted, then ordered retried.
In proceedings closely monitored both by human rights groups and the country's security services, Valentin Danilov, 53, director of a research center at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, was convicted of fraud for providing aerospace technology to a Chinese company.
A judge will now decide if the fraud amounts to espionage. Under Russian law, a jury cannot hear classified information and therefore cannot determine whether Danilov is guilty of spying. Sentencing is scheduled for Wednesday.
Danilov was arrested in early 2001 and spent 19 months in prison before being acquitted by a jury in December. The verdict sparked outrage among some officials in the security services and was later overturned by the Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial.
Danilov argued in both trials that he was working only from open sources and that he had official clearance for his work on satellites with the Chinese.
In April, another scientist, Igor Sutyagin, a scholar at the U.S.A.-Canada Institute in Moscow, received a 15-year sentence for selling information to a British company. Sutyagin also argued that his information was in the public domain, but prosecutors maintained that the British firm was a front for the CIA.
Danilov said in a radio interview Friday that in the second trial, held in the city of Krasnoyarsk, his attorney was barred from describing exactly what material was given to the Chinese company, leaving the jury with the choice of believing either him or the state on the nature of the documents that are at the center of the case.
"All that the jury ruled on was that I was guilty of transferring information," Danilov told the Echo Moskvy radio. "But it did not make a ruling on what kind of information I actually passed on."
Human rights groups have charged that the Danilov case is part of a pattern of questionable prosecutions of environmentalists, scientists and journalists. In each case, the defendants were accused of espionage for working on sensitive military and environmental matters with foreign organizations or countries, even though they appeared to be using material that was in the public domain.
Human Rights Watch called the series of cases here "spy mania."
"While these prosecutions are unlikely to lead to the formal reintroduction of Soviet-style blanket limitations on freedom of speech on sensitive issues, 'spy mania' has certainly served as a warning to other journalists, scientists and activists working on sensitive issues," the human rights group said in a report.
Danilov said he planned to appeal the conviction in Russian courts and then the European Court of Human Rights.