Press release from Yury Schmidt, 1998-09-23

Publish date: September 24, 1998

Press-release of Yuriy Schmidt, 1998-09-24


October 5, 1998, marks the third anniversary of the case of "espionage" in favour of the environmental organisation Bellona. The FSB has triumphantly announced solving this case in its first official reports. In the course of these three years, Nikitin has been charged seven (sic!) times, the case has seen three investigation teams, one of the accused died of heart attack, one of the investigators died. Heaps of paper was wasted, and so were enormous sums of taxpayers money. Finally: the elephant gave birth to a dead mouse.

In the course of these three long years, the FSB regularly spread false information which purposely distorted all details related to the Nikitin case, including the accusation itself. Journalists working for the FSB — including A. Khokhlov, E. Zubarev, S. Nenashev, E. Solomenko, S. Alyokhin — spread the lies. The defence, which understood that such lies gave the public a wrong perception of the Nikitin case, had to go public with denials.

From the beginnings of the preliminary investigation on, the defence tried to prove that it is impossible to charge Nikitin with revealing state secrets to a foreign country, basing those charges on Defence ministry secret orders that have not been made public. The Prosecutor General’s Office has twice found that using such decrees is illegal. However, despite obeying these orders formally, the FSB has in fact remained loyal to its old principles: although the references to the unpublished (illegal) lists of classified information have been taken out of the seventh indictment, the FSB still bases the accusation on them.

The last (seventh) charges, brought against Alexander Nikitin on May 8, 1998, do not contain any references to the lists of classified information, issued by the Defence Minister’s decrees. Instead, the accusation refers to point 1 of Article 5 of the Russian Federal Law "On State Secrets." In principle, that is correct. However, this reference cannot be applied to this case.

Firstly, the said law in the 1993 version which existed while Nikitin was working on the report, did not contain the list of classified information, but a list of information that may be classified by a presidential decree. Such decree was only issued November 30, 1995 — two months after Nikitin has completed working on the report and after the criminal case has been initiated, and therefore, this decree could not be applied to the case. Secondly, the concrete facts which Nikitin is accused of revealing, are not secret, neither according to the list included into the Law, nor according to the list confirmed by presidential decree. Thirdly, as the investigation cannot link the data sent abroad by Nikitin to a concrete part of the Law "On State Secrets," it refers to the entire list, which is absolutely illegal because it deprives the accusation of the required certainty and demonstrates its absolute groundlessness.

The investigators, who were given irrefutable evidence that the data regarding accidents on the Northern Fleet’s nuclear submarines, contained in the Bellona report, has been published in open sources before, ignores this circumstance, although this circumstance completely removes any criminal responsibility of the report’s authors.

Since the FSB’s charges completely lack legal and factual grounds for an accusation, the defence has motioned June 7, 1998, that the criminal case be closed without a trial. However, St. Petersburg Criminal Court Judge S. Yu. Golets refused to satisfy this motion, saying it was preliminary, and set a date for closed court hearings for October 20, 1998, 10:30 a.m., at 16 Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki, second floor, room 48. The defence has motioned that at least part of the hearings be open; to which the judge gave his preliminary agreement in a conversation with one of Nikitin’s attorneys.

Earlier, the defence has asked the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation to hear the Nikitin case. Art. 38 of the criminal procedure code of the RSFSR allows such opportunity if the criminal case "is of a special difficulty or is of a special public importance." In this case, both qualities of the case are obvious, but the Supreme Court has refused to satisfy the motion of the defence, although this motion was supported by several State Duma deputies and such activists as Mstislav Rostropovich, Dmitri Likhachyov, Dmitri Granin, Boris Strugatski, and also the special rapporteur of the Council of Europe, Erik Jurgens. In his reply to the latter, the Deputy Chairman of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, A. Merkushov claimed that there are no grounds to have any doubts regarding the objectivity and balance of the St. Petersburg City Court. Meanwhile, back in 1996 in its press releases, the defence provided obvious examples of how the St. Petersburg FSB branch put pressure on the court when it rules on Nikitin’s release from detention on bail and forced the court to make illegal decisions.

Today, the defence is worried because the former head of the St. Petersburg FSB branch Viktor Cherkesov, who is in charge of fabricating this far-fetched case and of pressuring the court, has been promoted to the post of first deputy head of the Russian FSB. His chances to pressure the court have grown.

According to the Russian criminal procedural code, the case must be heard by a judge and two magistrates, and the magistrates have the same rights as the judge when the verdict of guilty or not guilty is passed. Considering that formally this case is secret, the defence is afraid that the magistrates will be individuals who have "access" to classified information. In other words, persons who have received such access from the FSB. The defence is worried that, along with the access, they will receive the according instructions and will follow these instructions instead of following the law. Thus, in violation of all the international legal norms, the Constitution and the Russian laws, the main principle of a just court is in danger — the principle of independent judges.

Yuri Schmidt, defence attorney of Aleksandr Nikitin