The most important trial in Russian legal history

Publish date: October 3, 1998

The trial against Russian environmentalist Alexandr Nikitin starts in St. Petersburg on October 20. Nikitin is co-author of the Bellona report on the nuclear hazards within the Russian Northern Fleet. The nuclear waste storage practices described in the report have been called "a Chernobyl in slow motion." Because of the report, Nikitin is accused of espionage and divulging of state secrets. The trial will be Nikitin's first chance in this three year long process to prove his innocence. But Nikitin and his lawyers have been refused to familiarise themselves with the legislation he is accused of having violated.

Basic Human Rights Violation

There exists no valid legal foundation for the charges against Nikitin, as they are entirely based on secret and retroactive legislation issued by the Russian Ministry of Defence. This in violation of the Russian Constitution and international treaties ratified by Russia. Thus, Nikitin is deprived of his right to conduct a proper defence. In fact not even the FSB-investigators, the prosecutor or the presiding Judge have yet seen this legislation. The Judge has ordered the Russian Defence Ministry to produce the secret decrees before the trial start. The irregularities and violations on a number of basic principles of law and human rights have permeated the proceedings against Alexandr Nikitin ever since his arrest and they have continued with unabated force after his release in December 1996.

Among the serious harassments against Nikitin was the attempt to deny him the right to freely choose his own defence-lawyer, cutting up car tyres, tearing up lawyers’ identity cards and locking up lawyers for hours. Nikitin, his family and his lawyers have been exposed to serious harassment carried out by the FSB in the streets of St. Petersburg, where he has been in "city arrest" since his release from custody. The worst has been direct physical attacks by the successors of the KGB. These incidents show that the men behind the case have a desire to turn the clock backwards to the days of the Soviet security services’ unlimited powers.

Huge International Attention

The prosecution of Nikitin has raised considerable international attention. In September 1996, Nikitin was adopted by Amnesty International as the first Russian prisoner of conscience since Andrey Sakharov. The European Parliament has passed three resolutions concerning the case. Bill Clinton stated in a letter that "the U.S. Government remains deeply concerned about the serious procedural irregularities", that have characterised FSB’s handling of the case. The Council of Europe has appointed their own raporteur to the case, and among others the International Helsinki Federation has raised the obvious question: A conviction of Nikitin will mean that Russia is turning backwards to Soviet Practice, whereas an acquittal will mean that the country continues on the long way towards developing a constitutional democracy and a civil society where environmentalists are free to raise their concerns about the lethal radioactivity from the Cold War’s laid-up nuclear submarines.

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