MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court on Tuesday paroled a physicist convicted of spying for China in 2004 in a case that was criticized by human rights campaigners during President Vladimir Putin’s first term.
Valentin Danilov, now in his 60s, is expected to be freed in 10 days. Rights activists said the satellite technology data he passed to China was declassified and the case was politically motivated, highlighting the shortcomings of Russia’s judiciary.
“Danilov has already served two-thirds of this term, behaved well,” said Maria Fomushina, spokesman for the court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk which decided to parole him. “The decision also took into account his health condition.”
Danilov will be freed next week unless the ruling is challenged. He will remain on parole for the rest of his 14-year term, which Fomushina said amounted to just over three years and two months.
Danilov had been a researcher at Krasnoyarsk State University. He acknowledged 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.
Danilov’s trial was one of several prominent cases during Putin’s first spell as president from 2000 until 2008. Putin began a new six-year term in May.
Among those was the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, former head of the YUKOS oil company and once Russia’s richest man, who was arrested in 2003 and is still in jail after being found guilty of fraud, tax evasion, theft and money laundering.
He says he was a victim of a Kremlin campaign to tighten the state’s grip on the oil sector and punish him for challenging Putin’s political domination.
An aide to Khodorkovsky, Platon Lebedev, was jailed on similar charges but had his 13-year sentence reduced by three years last month and could be freed next year.
“If they are letting Danilov, or Lebedev for that matter, go, that only means the authorities are no longer afraid of them. They think those people no longer pose a threat to them,” said Pavel Chikov, head of human rights group Agora.
Russian opposition leaders and rights activists accuse the courts of not being independent enough and often yielding to political guidance from the authorities.
“This is completely wrong, but that’s how it goes. If the authorities wanted to keep him in, somebody would write a report that he has done something wrong and then his parole option is no more,” Chikov said.
Editing by Timothy Heritage and Anna Willard