Publish date: March 18, 1997


News Release

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 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE               CONTACT: March 18, 1997                      Larry Williams, (202) 675-6690 


Sierra Club Urges Russia to Investigate Controversial Charges

Washington, D.C. – The leaders of environmental, human rights and scientific organizations from the U.S., Europe and Russia today sent letters to President Clinton and President Yeltsin urging the two leaders to use the occasion of their Helsinki Summit to see that espionage charges levied against a former Russian naval captain are investigated.

On Dec. 14, 1996, Alexander Nikitin was released from a St. Petersburg prison after being held in pre-trial detention for 10 months and eight days. Nikitin was imprisoned for his important research which revealed the ecological dangers of Russia’s crumbling nuclear submarine fleet based in Murmansk. Mr. Nikitin is still under investigation and accused of treason. He is not permitted to travel outside St. Petersburg and the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) has confiscated his passport. Nikitin’s case was highlighted in the 1996 Country Reports on Human Rights released by the U.S. State Department on January 30, 1997.

"The FSB appears determined to falsely paint Nikitin as a foreign spy to see that he quietly disappears behind bars," said Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director. "Alexander Nikitin’s only crime was to embarrass the Russian government in attempt to protect the environment. He is a hero, not a criminal," Pope concluded.

In letters to Clinton and Yeltsin, the groups expressed concern that the Russian government’s charges against Nikitin are an attempt to keep secret the nuclear hazards caused by the Russian North Sea Fleet. "The Russian Northern Fleet – Sources of Radioactive Contamination," the report which Mr. Nikitin researched and for which he was imprisoned, identifies important steps to protect the Arctic Sea from nuclear pollution. The report, published by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, describes the problems that the fleet is experiencing with its nuclear powered vessels, with the storage of spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste that the operation of these vessels generates.

"The Russian government charges that Nikitin disclosed state secrets in contributing to the Bellona report," said Stephen Mills, Director of the Sierra Club’s Human Rights and the Environment Campaign. "But the human rights report released in January by the State Department declares that Nikitin and Bellona have demonstrated that all of the information they published was from open sources." Mills added.

"Russian environmentalists play a critical and courageous role in addressing these and other environmental issues," said Mills. "It is important that the U.S. government help protect and encourage these efforts. The FSB’s campaign against Alexander Nikitin and Bellona is an attempt to stifle the search for real solutions to Russia’s serious environmental problems."

The 105-year-old Sierra Club has long held that citizen participation in government decision-making is indeed the key to environmental protection. In order for people worldwide to take action to protect their environment, their rights concerning political participation, personal security, and personal autonomy–for example, the freedom to speak and organize–must be recognized and respected by their governments. Environmental activists must be free from the threat of retaliation for exercising these rights.

Copies of the letters and a list of signatories are available by calling David Ellenberger (202) 675-6693.