Court may consider Bellona vs. Russian Ministry of Defense in absence of the defendant

Publish date: November 18, 2004

On 22 November at 10:15 a.m. the Presnya District Court in Moscow will hear the complaint lodged by the environmental NGO Bellona against Russia’s Ministry of Defense, insisting that the ministry declassify information about radiological accidents and technical failures aboard Soviet submarines that took place between 1961 and 1985. During this hearing, if the defendant fails to appear, the case will be considered in absence of the defendant.

Several earlier court sessions have been postponed because Defense Ministry defendants failed to appear..

“The last time, patience was exhausted: The court sent telegrams to the Ministry of Defense, saying that if they didn’t show up, the case be considered without them”, says Bellona’s lawyer Ivan Pavlov, director of the Institute for Information Freedom Development.

According to Clause 7 of the law “On State Secrets”, any information pertaining to civil emergencies and catastrophes that threaten the safety and health of the population, from natural disasters and official forecasts about disasters and their prospective consequences, tos information about ecological conditions, is lawfullyavailable to the public and forbidden being classified by the government.

A year and a half has elapsed since the Environmental Rights Center Bellona, or ERC, originally filed a complaint with the Presnya District court of Moscow,—which has jurisdiction over cases concerning the Ministry of Defence—regarding the Navy commander’s refusal to de-classify socially significant information regarding the submarines incidents.

But the Presnya District court refused to review the complaint, claimig that this case, which allegedly concerns state secrets, had to be considered by a court with jurisdiction within a subject of the Russian Federation—in this case by the Moscow City Court. Bellona contested the District Court’s decision, insisting that the case did not concern state secrets and the information, and asserted that the Ministry of Defence’s information on these incidents could not be classified by law. In December 2003 Russia’s Supreme Court ended a year of jurisdictional ping-pong, and handed down a decision establishing that the complaint filed by Bellona against the Russian Navy’s Commander must be considered at the Presnya District Court in Moscow.

The case will be presided over by judge Larisa Sumenkova.

For comments:
Environmental Rights Center Bellona, St Petersburg, +7 812 327-29-43, +7 812 995-61-18
Ivan Pavlov +7 812 963-65-11
Presnya court of Moscow (Zoologicheskaya ul., 20) +7 095 254-0232