People of St. Petersburg support Nikitin

Publish date: November 23, 1999

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

Despite the war in Chechnya filling most news programs on Russian TV, the Nikitin trial this week makes its way to the attention of the Russian people.

A crew from the Russian central TV station RTR went out on St. Petersburg main street, Nevsky Prospekt, and asked the first ten persons if they knew of Aleksandr Nikitin, and, if so, did they think he was a spy. All ten answered yes to the first question and all ten answered no to the second.

Before the court was set this morning, several different environmental and human rights organizations arranged a rally opposite the street from the City Court. “Aleksandr, we are with you” was the text on the banner of the organization Soldiers Mothers, while Memorial, one of the most prominent Human Rights groups in Russia stated “the Nikitin trial is a shame for Russia.” Observers from Memorial were also represented in the courtroom today.

FSB video recording

St. Petersburg’s local human rights group Citizen Watch had received written permission from the local police to arrange the rally. But even this fact didn’t stop the MVD police guarding the city court from writing down the names of those participating. Meanwhile, FSB representatives, standing on the other side of the street, looked satisfied by just video recording the demonstration.

Russian and U.S. environmental groups

Logically, the outcome of the FSB vs. Nikitin case will be a guidance for the future work of the green groups in Russia. But the Nikitin trial has raised enormous interest from environmentalists all round the world.

The Sierra Club, the largest environmental organization in the United States, has supported Nikitin’s fight for the freedom of expression since Nikitin was put in custody in February 1996.

“We consider Aleksandr Nikitin to be a hero, not a criminal,” said Stephen Mills, Director of the Sierra Club’s International Program. “We realize that many Russian citizens must consider environmental protection luxury only Westerners can afford. Unfortunately, unless the serious environmental and health issues raised by Nikitin and Bellona are addressed immediately, life in Russia will get much harder, and much more expensive, said Mills.”

Many Russian environmental groups are represented in St. Petersburg this week. From the Chelyabinsk region in the South Urals, to the closed city of Sosnovy Bor just outside of St. Petersburg, NGO representatives hope for the best possible outcome of the Nikitin trial.

Next in line


“A negative verdict in the ongoing trial will be followed by many similar cases initiated by FSB against environmentalists,” says Nickolai Schoor from the city of Snezinsk north of Chelyabinsk. And Schoor know perfectly well what he is talking about; he is the next in line. He has been accused of publishing an article in the local newspaper about the radiation levels in the surroundings of the Mayak reprocessing plant. The trial against Schoor starts next week, on November 30.