A Siberian court has finally granted parole to a Russian physicist who has spent 11 years in jail for alleged espionage and embezzling of funds. If no appeal is filed, Valentin Danilov could be released as early as next week.
Danilov, born 1951, headed the Thermo-Physics Center at Krasnoyarsk State Technical University in Siberia before he was arrested in 2001 on charges of selling classified satellite technology to a Chinese company. He was acquitted of all charges in 2003 but one year later a new jury overturned the decision and sentenced him to 14 years in prison, which was later reduced by one year.
As a researcher, Danilov had investigated effects of solar activity on space satellites. He has always maintained that the satellite device in question was unclassified technology that had been public knowledge for many years. Human right groups say that his conviction was politically motivated.
Russian courts have in the past targeted a number of scientists accused of alleged treachery or espionage. Prominent examples include military analyst and nuclear weapons expert Igor Sutyagin, sentenced to 15 years in 2004, who was spectacularly swapped in 2010 for the release of ten agents arrested in the United States for spying for Russia.
In 2006, physicist Oskar Kaibyshev was given a six-year suspended prison sentence for exporting technologies with possible military use to South Korea. And in June, a St. Petersburg court sentenced to 12 and 12 ? years in a penal colony, respectively, two professors, Yevgeny Afanasiev and Svyatoslav Bobyshev, at the city?s State Military Mechanical University for having passed on military secrets to China. All convicted scientists have consistently maintained their innocence.
The threat of prosecution is not confined to Russian scientists involved in military research. In August, the arrest of poppy expert Olga Zelenina, accused of abetting drug trafficking, caused an outcry among scientists in Russia and abroad. Zelenina, who her supporters say merely produced an expert opinion on the narcotics content in a shipment of poppy seeds, was released from custody in September pending her yet unscheduled trial.
Danilov?s release will bring attention to the plights of Russian scientists in similar positions, says S?bastien Francoeur, a physicist at the ?cole Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada, and a member of the American Physical Society?s ?committee on International Freedom of Scientists.
?This is very good news for the Russian scientific community and scientists worldwide,? he says.