The surprising delaying of the Supreme Court hearing in the Nikitin case is a clear violation of the laws the Supreme Court is supposed to defend as the highest court in Russia. The hearing, supposed to put an end to the more than four years of walking in and out of the Russian court system for Aleksandr Nikitin, was postponed for another uncertain period shortly after its assembly this Wednesday.
“This postponing goes even beyond the limits of the General procurator’s petition in Wednesday’s court hearing. He asked for two more weeks to familiarise himself with the case documents, but the Supreme Court postponed the hearing without setting a new date,” says Nikitin’s chief defender Jury Schmidt, adding that this question was not offered for the parties to discuss. Today he and his colleague lawyers Ivan Pavlov and Michael Matinov sent a petition to the Supreme Court about this issue.
When the Supreme Court hearing started on 29 March, the case was already beyond the time limit stated in the Russian Criminal Procedure code. Here, article 333 says the Supreme Court is obliged to examine the case within one month from the date of its arrival. The appeal from procurator Aleksandr Gutsan in St. Petersburg arrived at the Moscow Supreme Court on February 24. The Criminal code says only exceptional cases may be postponed, and then requires that it is the Supreme Court chairman or vice-chairman who prolongs it, for a maximum period of one month. The judges who heard the Nikitin case for ten minutes on Wednesday were not in such a position.
“They have had plenty of time. There’s been three months since my acquittal in the City Court, and, moreover, the whole case has been going on for more than four years now. I had hoped for a final end to this,” Nikitin said after the ten minutes court hearing. Today Aleksandr returned to St. Petersburg without knowing when he can expect to meet in the Supreme Court again.
Nikitin’s defence team and Bellona’s legal advisor Jon Gauslaa, also underline that the Nikitin case already violates the European Convention on Human Rights. In accordance with article 6 (1) of this convention, everybody has the right to have his or her case heard within reasonable time. The more than four years the Nikitin case has been going on in the mess that is the Russian legal system can definitely not be considered “reasonable time.” The Nikitin case files have already been sent to be heard in the Strasbourg court.
Aleksandr Nikitin was arrested on 6 February 1996, accused of espionage because of his participation in the writing of the Bellona report outlining the dangers from nuclear waste in the Northern Fleet. He spent more than 10 months in the feared KGB prison in St. Petersburg before he was released on bail, but still restrained by City arrest. He has faced eight different sets of charges, all referring to secret decrees, some even made retroactive.
His case was first heard in St. Petersburg City Court in October 1998, but the City Court decided then to send the case back to further investigation by the Russian security police, the FSB. This decision was appealed by Nikitin’s defence team, but the Supreme Court confirmed the City Court’s decision in a hearing in Moscow in February 1999. The additional investigation lead to a new set of charges, heard again in the City Court in St. Petersburg from 23 November 1999. On 29 December, the Court acquitted Nikitin of all charges, deeming them groundless and not based on the laws and constitution of the Russian Federation.