A great day for justice

Publish date: January 3, 2000

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

December 29, 1999 should go down in history as a great day for justice. On the eve of the 21st century the St. Petersburg City Court drew away the ghosts from Russia’s past and opened the door to a bright future for a country that has suffered so much throughout the century that we are about to leave.


The Court took a stand

On December 22 I wrote on this web-site that a conviction of Nikitin would be a tragedy, not only for him, but even more for Russia, as that would mean that the secret decrees of the Ministry of Defence were given higher legal power than the Russian Constitution. In my December 28 comment to the prosecutor’s closing speech, I recalled the show-trials of the 1930’ies and expressed my fear that also the trial in the City Court was a show-trial.

The tragedy did, however, not take place, and the trial was not a show-trial. Rather than a Court giving in to FSB-pressure, we witnessed a Court that took a stand in the name of justice.

The Court emphasised that the prosecution’s use of secret and retroactive decrees as the basis for the case was “in clear violation of the constitution”. It stated that the right to environmental information was protected by the Russian Constitution. It saw no crimes in Nikitin’s actions and it strongly criticised the procedural violations of the FSB throughout the case, starting with its illegal confiscation of evidence back in October 1995.

The prosecutor’s sinking case

I looked at prosecutor Aleksandr Gutsan when the judge stated that the evidence had been obtained in violation of the law. This was the first clear indication that Nikitin would win the case. For the first time ever I saw a reaction from Gutsan. He was swearing, because in that moment he realised that his case was sinking.

Throughout the trial I have published a number of comments concerning the prosecutor’s feeble performance. Some have considered me being too harsh with him. “You wouldn’t have said that if had seen him in action”, I have answered, adding “if the prosecutor had done his job, Nikitin would never have had to defend himself for four long years against charges of state treason.” On December 29 the City Court agreed.

We should nevertheless perhaps be grateful also to Gutsan. I mean, if he had done his job and stopped the proceedings earlier, we would never have had the verdict of the City Court, and December 29, 1999 would probably not have been a day to remember.

Closing remarks

Hopefully also the FSB will be able to accept the verdict in due time. We should, on the other hand, respect Russia’s right to protect its state secrets. However, also the security police should follow the law and protect Russia against the real treats against the state security, and stop chasing environmentalists. Hopefully the FSB will learn its lesson.

On the morning of December 29 the mood was quite pessimistic. One journalist said to me that the best Nikitin could hope for was a compromise. Others saw the recent statement of Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin that “Russia will never be a democracy like the United States with its long liberal tradition”, as a bad omen.

I did not belong to them and in fact I do to a certain degree agree with Mr. Putin. The world doesn’t need another United States. We already have one (some would even say one too many …). What the world needs is a Russia that is able to realise its great potential.

A truly independent judiciary that passes verdicts without paying attention to which person who at a given time occupies the position as Prime Minister, is a necessary condition in order to achieve this goal. The St. Petersburg City Court showed the needed independence.

That is why the perspectives of the full acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin are more than promising and why December 29, 1999 will go down in history as a great day for justice and democracy in Russia.