Nikitin trial observers a bit more optimistic

Publish date: October 20, 1998

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

ST. PETERSBURG (Bellona Web): The briefing Aleksandr Nikitin's defence team had after the end of Wednesday's Court hearings made the international observers more optimistic about the outcome of the trial. But many point out that there is no guarantee that the trial will end with a positive decision.

-We are a little bit more optimistic after today’s briefing made by Nikitin’s defence team, especially since the lawyers say the secret decrees cannot be used against Nikitin, says Diederic Lohman, Moscow director of the Human Right Watch. In this case it is the prosecution methods used by FSB which is on trial, he says.

-We became more optimistic, since Nikitin is so optimistic, says Stephen Mills of the Sierra Club, the largest environmental group in USA. It was Sierra Club that nominated Nikitin to the Goldman Environmental Prize last year. Mills consider the outcome of the Nikitin trial as the single biggest indicator of in which direction Russia is moving: forward or back to the USSR-regime.

-The Russians have done an extraordinary job in stopping the important issues raised in the Bellona-report about the nuclear safety within the Northern Fleet. The Nikitin-case must get a positive outcome, and the focus must be on the environmental problems Aleksandr Nikitin raised in his work with the report, says Stephen Mills, one of the many observers who were not allowed to stay in the Court room for more than an hour yesterday.

The U.S. consul in St. Petersburg, Thomas Lynch, says American interest in the case includes concern for the environment and for how Russia copes with the issue of state secrecy vs. citizens’ rights.

The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights has sent two observers to the trial, Ragnhild Astrup Tschudi and Birgitte Dufour. They say the criminal prosecution of Nikitin is reminiscent of the days when citizens of Russia were arrested arbitrarily, imprisoned and silenced. It is a major set-back in the history of the Helsinki process, showing how fragile the progress toward the rule of law remains in Russia 23 years after the signing of the Helsinki act.

Tschudi and Dufour consider that the role played in this case by FSB amounts to harassment and intimidation of a citizen who used his internationally recognised right to freedom of expression when reporting about the risks of an environmental catastrophe.