First day of trial ends

Publish date: October 20, 1998

Written by: Runar Forseth

The first day of the trial against Nikitin ended at 14:00 local time, after closed hearings most of the day. Aleksandr Nikitin and two of his three defenders, Jury Schmidt and Ivan Pavlov, met the press and international observers who were expelled from the court earlier.

Most part of today’s court session was held behind closed doors. According to Nikitin’s lawyer Yury Schmidt, the judge recited the indictment, and asked Nikitin two questions: Did he consider himself guilty, and was the indictment understandable? Nikitin’s answer was "No" – on both questions.

The schedule for the coming days, according to the judge, is to interrogate Nikitin on Wednesday and Thursday, and then hear witnesses on Friday. Whether this will be sufficient to close the case, no one knows.

Defence finally gets to see the secret decrees
In his briefing, Schmidt put special emphasis on two things: for the first time in Russian legal history, three Duma deputies were present at the court in accordance with the Russian law that says Duma representatives can observe court proceedings without special clearance. Although this was a matter of practical realisation of the Russian law on secrecy, the prosecutor had a number of questions. Foremost, he wanted to know why the deputies had come to the court room. All three answered quietly that they had come because the Nikitin case interested them.

Secondly, the defence was satisfied that the judge had requested and received the secret decrees on which the indictment is built. Shortly after the briefing the defence would start familiarising themselves with this material. However, the fact that the decrees were finally available is no excuse towards the fact that the decrees were not provided earlier, in clear violation of the defendant’s rights.

Criminal code contradicts the Constitution
Mr Reznyk, of Nikitin’s defence team, pointed out that the current criminal code contradicts the Russian Constitution on several issues. He asked the judge to stick with the Constitution on issues were this is the case, Schmidt said.

Questioned about the secret decrees, Schmidt said that even if they are illegal in this context, and thus irrelevant to the case, the defence will still have a thorough look at them. "I must disappoint those of you who expect me to reveal the contents of the decrees," said Schmidt. "If the decrees contain state secrets, I will be an example to Russian citizens – I will not reveal state secrets."

"I don’t understand the prosecution"
Summarising the charges and possible punishment upon conviction, Schmidt explained that the charges are based on Articles 275 and 283 of the criminal code, and that the punishment may be 12-20 years imprisonment. "I don’t understand how the prosecutor can carry his head high, he should walk doubled over from shame," said Schmidt. "This is not a joke – I really don’t understand it."