I spy with my little eye something prohibited under international law

Everyone, me included, loves a spy story whether the fictional sort, including the exploits of  James Bond and George Smiley, or the real-like variety, including Blake, Philby and Burgess. 

I can think of lots of reasons for this popular fascination – not least the very glamorous circles in which spies appear to operate. There’s some of that in the excitement about recent events in the US, along with, I suspect, a little nostalgia for the bygone Cold War age, or this aspect of it at least.  

Of course, few of us will ever know how close to reality any of the spy stories I’ve mentioned come, though we can probably be confident that international espionage isn’t quite as glamorous as it is made out to be. And, though BBC News online claims “this time history has come back as farce” the ‘spy swap’ currently taking place will be no laughing matter for those involved. 

Here at Amnesty, we’ve said any deal over the release of a nuclear scientist Igor Sutyagin which requires him to leave Russia against his wishes will amount to forcible exile, which is prohibited under international law. He is one of a number of people convicted of spying in Russia who are being exchanged for those alleged by the US to be Russian spies. 

Igor Sutyagin’s mother told Amnesty that he has opposed this deal but was coerced to accept it.  

“He understands that by signing a confession of his guilt, he is losing all chances for a fair trial of his case, including a hearing of his case pending at the European Court of Human Rights. That’s why he asked me to pass on to everyone that he is not guilty. He had to sign this confession as he had no other options. He looks at his swap as an expulsion from the country,” said Svetlana Sutiagina.  

Amnesty believes the case against Igor Sutyagin was politically-motivated and part of a clampdown on freedom of expression in Russia that has included academic and cultural figures as well as religious groups. The proceedings against Sutyagin were marred by violations of international fair trial standards and Amnesty has called for his prompt retrial.


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