A pair of professors on the faculty of the State Military Mechanical University in St. Petersburg will soon stand trial in that city for espionage, in what promises to be one of the most noteworthy spy cases there since Alexander Nikitin was tried in the late 1990s on allegations of supplying top secret information to Norwegian intelligence. Specifically, the charge against scientists Yevgeny Afanasiev and Svyatoslav Bobyshev is that of treason by means of espionage, according to Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code. They are accused of turning over classified data to Chinese intelligence in April and May of 2009 while both were teaching in China at the Polytechnical University in Harbin. Afanasiev and Bobyshev were taken into custody this past March and remain so.

Yury Schmidt, the esteemed human rights attorney, cautioned that the efficacious prosecution throughout Russia of scholars and researchers as spies in the last ten years has been coupled with harsher sentences. Four years ago, the former general director of the Central Machinery Construction Research Institution, Moscow scientist Igor Reshetin, was found guilty of handing over technology to the Chinese and received a sentence of eleven and a half years in a penal colony. He had justified his actions, claiming the technology’s nonclassified status permitted its export and international dialogue. Physicist Valentin Danilov in 2003 likewise was convicted of placing classified information in Chinese hands, and drew a similar sentence of 13 years in a penal colony. In fact, the only instance of acquittal in an espionage or treason case in the legal annals of the Soviet Union and modern Russia was that of the aforementioned researcher and ecologist Alexander Nikitin, the skillful defense having been mounted by the already heralded Mr. Schmidt. Nikitin, a onetime naval captain and submarine officer, authored a study on the environmental risks of radioactive waste and decommissioned Russian nuclear submarines, expressly in northern Russia, for the Norwegian ecological organization Bellona, resulting in an accusation of high treason being levelled against him.

As regards the current case, Afanasiev and Bobyshev disavowed any wrongdoing and contended that the Harbin period was devoted solely to teaching and, furthermore, that the contents of the lectures were under the strict supervision of the Military Mechanical University. Schmidt indicated that should convictions of the two men be secured, the prison terms would run from 12 to 20 years. The public will be barred from the proceedings.

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