updated 11/24/2004 7:00:27 PM ET 2004-11-25T00:00:27

A Siberian court sentenced a Russian physicist to 14 years in prison Wednesday on charges of spying for China, in a case condemned by human rights groups as part of a crackdown on scholars by the KGB’s successor agency.

Earlier this month, a jury found Valentin Danilov guilty of passing information to China. A judge at the Regional Court in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk ruled Wednesday that the information was a state secret and sentenced him to 14 years in a maximum-security prison.

Danilov was also found guilty of defrauding Krasnoyarsk State Technical University, where he worked, of $15,500, and the judge ordered him to pay the money back.

Danilov is among several Russian scholars and journalists prosecuted for alleged espionage. Rights advocates say the security agency, the Federal Security Service, has been emboldened in efforts to discourage Russians’ unsupervised contacts with foreigners since Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer and FSB head, became president.

Danilov, 53, had pleaded innocent, arguing the information he provided was not classified and came from open sources, including scientific articles he previously published. He also said he got official clearance for a contract with the Chinese to build equipment to model the impact of the space environment on satellites, which he signed in 1999 on behalf of his university.

“The trial wasn’t free, fair or lawful,” Danilov’s lawyer, Yelena Yevmenova, said in a telephone interview. She said the defense would appeal the ruling in its entirety.

Previous acquittal overturned
Last month’s conviction overturned an earlier acquittal by a jury, and rights activists have accused the FSB of manipulating the trial. It was the FSB that initiated the proceedings against Danilov.

“The FSB turned this into a political case to protect its (own) interests,” said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, a prominent rights advocate.

Yevmenova charged that the trial was rife with violations, such as denying the defense team full information about jurors. Meanwhile, prosecutors manipulated jurors lists, even making would-be jurors fill out questionnaires, which is illegal, she said.

“The FSB has become successful in exerting influence on prosecutors and courts with the goal of passing their repressive verdicts,” said Lev Ponomaryov, head of the All-Russian Movement For Human Rights.

Danilov was arrested in February 2001 and spent 19 months behind bars before being acquitted by a jury last December. But prosecutors appealed the ruling, triggering the second trial. Danilov was put back in jail earlier this month after prosecutors accused him of continuing his “criminal activity,” citing interviews he did with the Western media.

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