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#9 - JRL 7262
Rights Group Says Russian FSB Fabricates Spy Charges Against Scientists

MOSCOW, Jul 21 (AFP) -- Poorly-paid Russian scientists are pushed to look for work abroad and then arrested as spies by the KGB successor agency after developing international contacts, rights activists warned Monday (21 July).

The Federal Security Service (FSB, ex-KGB) is attempting to boost its power, but is incapable of going after "real spies," they said.

"There is a trend to arrest scientists and accuse them of spying without any foundation," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the Moscow head of the international Helsinki rights group, adding that "the FSB tends to make up spies."

"It seems that at the FSB there are no specialists who are capable of capturing real spies and they think the easiest thing is to accuse scientists, ecologists and journalists," she said.

Russian scientists, working in poor conditions and with little pay since government funding dried up with the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, often cooperate with foreign companies to make ends meet, Alexeyeva said.

Russia's special services "can easily accuse scientists and reproach them for having had contacts with foreigners," Alexeyeva said.

"But the state itself, which has deprived science of necessary financing, pushes researchers to sign contracts with foreign firms," she said.

Russian scientists have accused authorities of unleashing a wave of "spymania" in recent years.

Activists pointed to the case of Valentin Danilov, a Russian physicist arrested in February 2001 and charged with spying for China.

Danilov, the former head of a university space research lab in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, has been under house arrest since last September, after spending a year and a half in jail.

Danilov was in Moscow MonSupreme Court hearing on his case this week.

"The FSB is very active right now. They want to show their strength and tighten the screw," he said.

The high court is due to decide Wednesday whether to press on with charges of high treason for having allegedly passed to China top secret and classified information on Russia's space technology, he said.

The FSB has become one of the most powerful agencies in Russia during the presidency of former FSB chief Vladimir Putin.

Scientist Igor Sutyagin has been in jail since late 1999 awaiting trial on charges of passing state secrets to the United States while he was working for the USA-Canada research institute.

Sutyagin faces a prison sentence of 12 to 20 years if convicted, but a date has still to be set for the trial.

In February, rocket scientist Anatoly Babkin was handed a suspended eight year jail sentence after being convicted of handing over secret missile data to former US naval intelligence officer Edmond Pope.

Babkin maintained his innocence throughout the trial, saying he had only passed on documents that were already available to the public.

Pope was sentenced in December 2000 to 20 years of hard labor for espionage but was pardoned a week later by President Vladimir Putin on grounds of his chronic cancer condition and returned to the United States.

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