UCSJ, CHRA call for adherence to rule of law on charging decision in case of russian environmentali

Publish date: June 21, 1997

Press release by UCSJ and CHRA


The criminal investigation of the case of Russian environmentalist Alexandr Nikitin has reached the critical stage where a decision must be made by the Russian Procurator General on whether to charge Nikitin with criminal offenses. Nikitin was arrested in Feb. 1996, by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), successor to the KGB, on allegations of espionage for his work on a report by the Norwegian Bellona Foundation about nuclear contamination in the Russian Northern Fleet.

On June 19, 1997, the Washington, D.C.-based Union of Councils (UCSJ) and the Boulder, Colorado-based Center for Human Rights Advocacy, a public interest law firm, learned that the FSB had concluded its extended investigation in Nikitin’s case. The FSB has recommended that Nikitin be charged with High Treason, Release of State Secrets, and Misuse of an Identification Card. The decision of whether to file formal charges against Nikitin now rests with the Procurator General of St. Petersburg, Russia.

Nikitin’s Russian attorney, Yuri Shmidt, has requested time to review and comment on the FSB report before the Procurator General makes his decision. UCSJ and CHRA are concerned that the FSB’s report does not include the results of independent studies by the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy and Bellona which concluded that Nikitin’s work was drawn entirely from non- secret sources. Basic fairness and due process require that those studies be considered.

UCSJ and CHRA also urge the Russian Procurator General to dismiss all charges against Nikitin. Nikitin’s activity in researching and publishing a report about nuclear hazards in Russia is protected activity under the Russian Constitution and international law. UCSJ President Yosef Abramowitz said, "Nikitin deserves a medal for reporting on environmental problems of global concern. Such behavior would not be treated +as criminal in a true democracy."

CHRA President Bill Cohen called the Nikitin case "a defining moment" in Russia’s effort to reform its totalitarian criminal justice system. "The world is watching this case very closely because it is the best measure of whether democratic freedoms, such as free speech, the right of access to governmental information, and freedom to publish reports critical of government behavior, will really be recognized in Russia. The outcome of Nikitin’s case will clearly define whether Russia deserves to sit at the table with the world’s largest democracies."