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New blows against jailed Bellona activist

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(July 12, 1996) One of the ugliest attacks on human rights in recent Russian history took an ominous turn on June 10 when imprisoned an- ti-nuclear campaigner Alexander Nikitin was denied bail, and his trial was handed over from a civilian to a military court. Nikitin, a former naval captain, has been held in a St Petersburg jail on espionage charges since being arrested on February 6 by the Federal Security Service (FSB - the former KGB). (see WISE NC 448.4442). He faces a minimum ten-year sentence, and a maximum penalty of death.

(455.4500) Renfrey Clarke - Neither Nikitin nor his lawyer, well-known civil liberties advocate Yury Schmidt, was allowed to attend the June 10 hearing on the case. The hearing took the form of a closed-door submission by an FSB prosecutor to a civilian judge. As a researcher for the Norwegian environmental group the Bellona Foundation, Nikitin helped prepare a report on radio- active contamination of the environment by the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet. Naval authorities allege that Nikitin divulged secret information to Bellona. However, the jailed activist and his supporters insist that all the information contained in the report was freely available from non-classified sources. Bellona's report, which was eventually released on April 19, painted a horrifying picture of neglect by the Northern Fleet of nuclear waste security.

According to a Bellona spokesperson in Oslo, the FSB wants a military trial for Nikitin because the court will be closed, and the security authorities will have more control over Schmidt's conduct of the defence. Addressing these issues in an interview published by the Moscow daily Izvestiya on June 8, Schmidt charged that the way was being prepared for gross violations of his client's rights. A military trial would "not exclude the possibility of the case being heard in a biased, bureaucratic manner," Schmidt stated.

In the same interview, Schmidt argued that the FSB's demand for a military trial contravened a ruling by the Constitutional Court, Russia's highest legal authority. In a decision handed down on March 27, the Constitutional Court found that people charged with espionage had the right to be defended by counsel of their choice, instead of lawyers appointed by the FSB. If Nikitin is tried in a military court, the possibility of a normal defence will be sharply limited.

The question of whether the trial takes place in a closed court may be crucial if, as Schmidt expects, the FSB prosecutes the case in a highly improper fashion. The navy experts who prepared materials for the prosecution did so, Schmidt told Izvestiya, not on the basis of the Russian constitution or the recently-adopted Law on State Secrets, but of "old orders from the Defence Minister which contradict the constitution and the law."

The basis of the charges against Nikitin, Schmidt continued, lay in events from 30 to 35 years back. But the Law on State Secrets states that the maximum length of time for which material can be classified as secret is 30 years.

Meanwhile, one document cited by the navy experts as containing "top secret information" proved to be an abridged version of an Izvestiya article from March 1995. Bellona activists say that attempts to submit their sources as evidence in the investigation have been refused.

In sum, Schmidt told Izvestiya, the only "secret" he had encountered in the case was the passionate wish of the armed forces to hide the catastrophic situation in the area of nuclear safety, compounded by the desire of the FSB to prove its usefulness. The desperate blundering of the military and security authorities should not, of course, lead one to underestimate their seriousness in wanting to rid the country of environmental whistle-blowers. Izvestiya on June 8 also carried a report of a conversation between one of the paper's journalists and a St Petersburg FSB investigator working on the Nikitin case. The FSB agent, who asked not to be named, said that further charges might be brought against Nikitin, and also against other individuals.

Source: Renfrey Clarke on June 16, 1996 by in From:
Contact: Bellona Foundation, PO Box 2141, Grunerlokka, N-0505 Oslo
Tel:+47-22-382 410
Fax:+47-22-393 862