“Acquit Nikitin of all charges”

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The City Court in St. Petersburg started its session today to hear the closing speeches from the prosecution and the defence. Prosecutor Gutsan was the first to take the floor. Before reading his speech, the prosecutor demanded the public to be removed from the courtroom and the doors sealed. The prosecutor was about to talk state secrets.

Prosecutor wants Nikitin to spend 12 years in labour camp
The prosecutor spoke for around one hour reading the indictment against Nikitin. Not a single word was changed in this document. He concluded his speech by specifying the level of punishment for Nikitin. The prosecutor said that Nikitin was to receive 20-year sentence on the charges of high treason and disclosure of state secrets. But, since he had never been convicted for committing a crime before, the prosecution demands 12 years in labour camp for Nikitin with all his property confiscated in favour of the state. 20 years is the maximum term for the high treason crime, 12 is the minimum.

Defence demands full acquittal
The defence team, consisting of three lawyers, was to hold its speeches after the prosecutor.

Michael Matinov was the first lawyer to speak, focusing on the high treason charges against Nikitin. He pointed out that none of the conditions for convicting Nikitin for high treason under Article 275 of the Russian Penalty Code were fulfilled.

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Loosing Nikitin case puts much at stake
"Loosing this case means loosing the Russian Constitution and a major part of the democratic achievements Russia has developed," Frederic Hauge, the President of Bellona, commented on today’s trial proceedings, "The most important achievement at stake is the freedom of speech."

Hauge stressed that, if Nikitin is convicted and sent to a labour camp, this case will create a precedent for the FSB. The successor to the KGB would then have their hands free to charge any publisher they dislike with high treason or disclosure of state secrets. The way to do it is as simple as this: Assemble an expert commission to find state secrets in the given publication and base the findings on secret normative acts. Should the charged person seek refuge in referring to the fact that the information for his publication comes from open sources, the experts will answer that it does play no role. In the Nikitin case they said that a state secret is a state secret as long as it is not officially declassified.

"The consequences are scary enough for the environmental work in Russia as well," added Hauge, "The chilling effect of the case will be massive. Anyone would think more than twice before working with environmental safety."

But that is exactly what the FSB has wished all the time. Asked about the chilling effect, FSB officers used to reply: "If that is the case, it is not bad after all."

Verdict date set
The Presiding Judge, Sergey Golets, said today that the court will set again on December 29 at 11:00 local time as planned. The word will first be given to the accused, while the court is expected to announce its verdict later the same day. The Nikitin process may finally get its end after more than four years of legal foot-dragging and law abuses. Yet, it may enter the new millennium unresolved still, as any verdict is likely to be appealed by at least on of the parties.