The Russian Supreme Court has set the date for its hearing of the case of Bellona employee Aleksandr Nikitin, charged by the Russian security police (FSB) with espionage and disclosure of state secrets. The court hearing is scheduled for 4 February, 10 A.M. Moscow time. The hearing will be open to the public and only last a few hours. The court’s decision will be announced the same day.
Response to filed appeals
Both the prosecution and Aleksandr Nikitin appealed to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, protesting the St. Petersburg City Court ruling to send the case back to the prosecutor for further investigation on 29 October 1998.
The St. Petersburg judge said in his decision that the prosecution’s charges were too vague, and that the military expert estimates on the amount of alleged damage to Russia’s security brought by the publication of the Bellona Report on the Northern Fleet were neither convincing nor comprehensible.
The prosecutor disagreed with the judge and lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court, to the effect that the case must be sent back to the City Court for a continued trial.
Nikitin’s defence team appealed to the Supreme Court as well, demanding that the case be dismissed.
Three possible outcomes
The Supreme Court’s task will be to verify the legality of the St. Petersburg Court decision, as well as to agree or disagree with the appeals filed by the prosecutor and the defence team. Thus, three possible outcomes are looming:
- The Supreme Court finds the City Court’s decision well grounded and legal, and forwards the case to the FSB for further investigation as per the St. Petersburg ruling.
- The Supreme Court agrees with the prosecutor and sends the case back to the City Court for continuation of the St. Petersburg trial.
- The Supreme Court agrees with the defence team and dismisses the case.
"The case has no criminal content"
Nikitin’s defence team demands that the case be dismissed on the grounds that it is lacking criminal content as well as juridical grounds for the charges. The indictment against Nikitin is still based upon secret and partly retroactive normative acts, as there was no valid legislation in Russia preventing his actions when Nikitin committed the alleged crime. Moreover, it is still unclear from the text of the indictment what Nikitin is actually accused of.
The Nikitin case
Aleksandr Nikitin is charged with espionage and disclosure of state secrets while working for the Bellona Foundation. He was arrested by the FSB on February 6, 1996, after writing two chapters of a Bellona report on the risks of radioactive pollution from Russia’s Northern Fleet. He was held in pre-trial detention until December 14, 1996, and his freedom of movement has been officially restricted to the city limits of St. Petersburg since his release from custody.