Press conference on day zero minus one

Publish date: October 19, 1998

Written by: Runar Forseth

ST. PETERSBURG (Bellona Web): A crowd of some 60 journalists, photographers and observers cramped the room when Aleksandr Nikitin held a press conference in St. Petersburg Monday afternoon.

Tomorrow, 20 October 1998 is D-day for what observers call "the single most important case to establish whether Russia is committed to the rule of law". Under scrutiny of more than 20 international observers, the trial against environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin is set to start.

The case has caused significant international interest; witness of which was the crowd of journalists that showed up at this afternoon’s press conference. Representing Russian, West-European and American media, the listeners were attentive when Frederic Hauge, President of the Bellona Foundation, presented the story behind the upcoming trial in short, stressing that the case against Nikitin is really about the huge amounts of radioactive waste and nuclear weaponry and technology in Northwestern Russia. "Unless environmental researchers like Nikitin are given access to real and detailed information about the situation, nothing can be done about it. This is the real threat against the Russian people," he said, before giving the word to internationally acknowledged environmentalist and human rights activist Alexandr Nikitin.

"My lawyers and I are prepared for any outcome of the trial. All the scenarios ends with victory – in the end," said Nikitin, who added that he is sure Russians in general will take interest in and engage themselves with the environmental questions in the near future. "Right now, I think most Russians have more pressing problems to deal with". He thought the same thing of Russian Prime Minister Primakov, when one journalist asked whether Nikitin expected former head of the Soviet foreign intelligence services, now Prime Minister, would be a problem. "Primakov has problems enough. He won’t want to mangle with this case," Nikitin said.

Observer Stephan Kess from American Human Rights Watch said, "Nikitin and Bellona are not alone. Human rights groups throughout the world are with them. This is the single most important case to establish whether Russia is committed to the rule of law. For a court to sentence Nikitin on the FSB charges, would mean that the legal system in effect accepts that the FSB are free to charge people with secret laws, to make new regulations with retroactive force, and to freely choose panels of experts that are most likely to deliver the evaluations that the FSB wants." Another HRW representative, Diederik Lohman from the Moscow branch of that organisation, added that a conviction in this case would scare off people from getting involved with environmental questions. "But even if Nikitin is cleared of all charges, much has been lost already. I wouldn’t blame a Russian that thought twice about getting engaged, when knowing that a colleague has been imprisoned for ten months and suffered a three year investigation with prolonged travel restrictions," Lohman said.