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The Kremlin’s Political Prisoners: The Case of Svyatoslav Bobyshev

Jul 05 2019

Svyatoslav Bobyshev is a professor and scientist at the D. F. Ustinov Baltic State Technical University (Voenmekh). He was arrested in March 2010 and charged with treason (Criminal Code Article 275) for allegedly selling information about the Bulava missile system to China during an academic collaboration with a Chinese polytechnic institute.

There is limited information on the case of Svyatoslav Bobyshev and Evgeniy Afanasyev, another Voenmekh professor, since their trial was held behind closed doors.

It is known that they visited China six times between 2002 and 2009 under the agreement of cooperation between the Voenmekh and the Harbin Institute of Technology. The teaching materials and the lecture texts were checked by the intelligence services and were not found to be controversial. The FSB began to monitor Svyatoslav Bobyshev in 2007, however up until 2009 he was not prevented from traveling to China. The prosecution claims that on May 30, 2009, Bobyshev and Afanasyev smuggled out materials, related to the results of the study on the “Bulava” strategic missile system and on 5-6 June they gave a USB flash drive with that information to Chinese scientists, who, according to the FSB, were working for the Chinese military intelligence.

The trial was held in St. Petersburg behind closed doors. At the conclusion of the trial, Evgeniy Afanasyev was sentenced to 12.5 years of a strict-regime penal colony and Svyatoslav Bobyshev was sentenced to 12 years of a strict-regime penal colony.  On April 14, 2015, it was announced that Evgeniy Afanasyev died in prison.

According to expert opinion, the information on technology, which Afanasyev and Bobyshev are being accused of handing over, was not secret. The scientists themselves claimed that they received $7,000 dollars from the Chinese for nine diagrams about the change in pressure depending on the depth and surface, and the reports that were created based on these findings. It is important to note that these diagrams were the only secret element of the report they put together, but they were classified as secret retroactively, and were not secret at the time when Afanasyev and Bobyshev handed them over. The names of the experts, who evaluated the degree of secrecy of the diagrams and the other documents, were classified. It was not proven in a proper manner that the information that was handed over contained a military secret.

The fact itself of the men collaborating with the Chinese intelligence seems questionable. The defense team noted the insignificant compensation for the transfer of documents, which carries a threat of long imprisonment in accordance with Russian law. The method of transfer was also strange, as they crossed the border with the information on a non-encrypted USB flash drive.

According to the human rights center “Memorial”, both professors were subject to persecution solely because they were exercising their legal professional activity, falling victim to a spy hysteria.

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