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Interview with Valentin Danilov: “I have patents and I have new ideas”

7 December 2012 

Vera Vasilieva

On 24 November 2012, Valentin Vladimirovich Danilov, doctor of physical and mathematical sciences and former director of the Thermo-Physics Centre of Krasnoyarsk Technical University, was released on parole from a prison colony in the Krasnoyarsk region. He had been convicted of passing materials containing state secrets to China in 2004 (under Article 275 of the Russian Criminal Code - treason).

The criminal case against him was launched in May 2000 by the Krasnoyarsk branch of the Federal Security Service. The physicist was also accused of fraudulent use of resources intended for scientific research. He was arrested in February 2001.

A jury acquitted Danilov in December 2003, but the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation overturned the decision. The scientist was detained once again on 10 November 2004. Two weeks later a newly selected jury found against him and he was sentenced to 14 years in prison. This sentence was later reduced by one year.

Valentin Danilov was considered a political prisoner by the Russian human rights community who repeatedly called upon the Russian President to free him.

Valentin Danilov has given an interview to's correspondent Vera Vasileva.

– What has freedom been like? And how did you spend your first day outside the colony?

– I had to wait ten days from the moment that Judge Evgeny Yurevich Repin announced his decision to reduce my sentence from incarceration in a high-security prison colony to probation, but when it came, the actual exit from penal colony IK-17 was accomplished very rapidly. At 6.30 in the morning, I was provided with my passport, 850 rubles for immediate expenses and enough money to get to Novosibirsk – 869 rubles. I had barely slept the night before, I'd stayed up all night talking to my cell-mate.

I travelled the last part of the journey to my daughter's house in a taxi, which cost 800 rubles, almost all the money for expenses that the State Duma has decided is enough for prisoners on their release. Because I owe so much to all those who supported me when I was in prison, I agreed to hold a press conference at 10 o'clock in the morning at the SibNovosti Press Centre. Afterwards, I took lots of calls from people who wanted to congratulate me on my release, gave an interview to Marianna Maksimova for REN-TV, and spent some time with my loved ones (niece, daughter and son-in-law). The next day we went to the cemetery to visit the graves of my relatives and colleagues who died while I was incarcerated. At 10.30 in the evening I left on the train for Novosibirsk.

– Has life in Russia changed much during your time in prison? What do you think the most obvious differences are?

– I was detained for the second time on 10 November 2004, and I was only released again 8 years and 14 days later. I was less interested in the changes to buildings and surroundings than in the way that people have changed. It took me just a few days to realize that I have returned to a completely different country, one that is familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. People express themselves much more freely and are less inhibited. That is amazing! So much has changed over such a short period of time. You can be proud of a country that has such people in it.

– When you were in prison, you wrote a blog for Radio Svoboda where you talked a lot about the problems in the prison service and offered suggestions for its reform. Have you also sent these comments directly to the Federal Penitentiary Service? If so, what was their reaction?

– The idea behind the blog was to get my ideas across to people who are interested in these issues. I addressed my thoughts on improving the prison service to the regional Public Oversight Commission which monitors the human rights of people incarcerated in the Krasnoyarsk region.

– How did the prison authorities react to your comments and the blog? Do you intend to continue working on these issues?

– The authorities in the various colonies censored my incoming and outgoing mail as they are required to do by law, so they didn't react at all. I will continue this work, naturally, and I am sure it will be much easier for me to talk to the Public Oversight Commission now.

– Are there any other issues that interest you apart from prison reform? Did you have the opportunity to follow scientific developments or write on scientific themes?

– I'm interested in a variety of issues, all of which I talk about on my blog on the Radio Svoboda website. It was almost impossible for me to keep up-to-date with science or write about it myself. I am an experimental scientist first and foremost, so you can appreciate that without any equipment or a laboratory I had no way of carrying out research.

– What did you find the hardest aspect of prison life?

– The lack of opportunity to mix with interesting people who share similar interests to me.

– What helped you to cope?

– The support of my loved ones and people who sympathized with my cause. I was given particularly strong support, both in terms of morale and practical assistance, by the political party Union of Right Forces. I can't begin to express how much Valentin Fridman helped me over the last seven years. Human rights organizations like the Moscow Helsinki Group (Ludmila Mikhailovna Alekseeva), Committee in Defence of Scientists (Yury Alekseevich Ryzhov, Ernst Isaakovich Cherniy), PEN Club and the Committee on International Freedom of Scientists of the American Physical Society did not let up on my case and repeatedly requested a review of it. I would like to thank them all.

– In a letter that you wrote to me from prison, you said “I think that my case was a huge mistake”. How would you best describe your case: a miscarriage of justice, or a deliberate fabrication by the police investigation followed by a knowingly unsound court decision?

– The judicial process into my case is not yet complete. The European Court of Human Rights informed my lawyer at the beginning of the year that they would accept my complaint this year. It's now December, and not much time is left. I think it would make more sense to comment on the case once all the legal proceedings are finished.

– Are you acquainted with the cases of other scientists who have been accused of crimes under Article 275 of the Criminal Code, such as Igor Reshetin and several other employees of TsNIIMASH-Export (Central Machine Building Research Institute – Export), Igor Sutyagin, Evgeny Afanasev and Svyatoslav Boryshev? If so, what do you think of them?

– I don't know what they have said in the media about these cases. There are some other high-profile cases involving scientists that you haven't mentioned. The criminal cases against Valentin Moiseev and Anatoly Babkin. I know these scientists personally and judging by the documents and statements that they have shown me, it is hard to agree with the courts' rulings in their cases. I do not say anything about the quality of the police investigations, because the final responsibility for the outcome of a trial lies with the judge who finds the accused guilty or innocent. There is good reason that they call the police investigations preliminary, because the main investigation is actually carried out in court. All the facts and evidence obtained during the preliminary investigation are examined by the court, and up to that point nothing is taken as read.

Valentin Moiseev was denied his right to a fair trial (Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), as the European Court confirmed in its ruling. In 2011, the Court also upheld a complaint from Igor Sutyagin that was also about the right to fair judicial processes.

The court hearings for each of the cases you mentioned in your question were closed to the public, so I don't know the details of the cases, but I can still say with confidence that the sentences handed down were unduly harsh, rather blood-thirsty. I have serious doubts about the validity of the judges' qualification of certain activities as criminal. Article 275 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation is fundamentally and essentially different from Article 64 (“betrayal of the homeland”) of the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. I've come to the conclusion that the judges do not know these differences and have qualified these activities in terms of the Soviet Criminal Code.

– What are your plans for the future? What are you going to do?

– My immediate concern is to restore my health, which has certainly not improved during my time in the prison colonies. By the way, the ministry responsible for running the colonies is the Federal Penitentiary Service of the Russian Federation, yet they still call these colonies “correctional” facilities. This is probably for historic reasons – they were formerly correctional labour camps. In accordance with the government's plans for the future development of the Russian penitentiary system, it is likely that they will rename them “prisons”, which will actually be a better description of what they do.

In the future I hope to occupy myself with something useful and interesting in the field of environmental (“green”) energy, particularly provision of heating to Siberian towns. I own patents in this field and I have some new ideas as well.