U.S. organizations express concerns over Nikitin court

Publish date: April 13, 2000

Five well known American organizations have sent a letter to President-elect Vladimir Putin where they express their concern over the handling of the Nikitin case and the development of rule of law in Russia.

Washington, April 12, 2000

His Excellency
Vladimir Putin
The Russian Federation

Via Facsimile

Dear President Putin:

Next week, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation will render its verdict in the case of Aleksandr Nikitin, who has been investigated for and acquitted of espionage by the City Court in St. Petersburg. Undoubtedly, the Supreme Court will, after examination of the issues raised in the appeal, confirm the lower court’s decision. After all, the international experts who have analyzed the case both in its legal and its substantive aspects have come to the conclusion that the case against Mr. Nikitin lacked merit, and that the acquittal was based on the law and Constitution.

Our concern is with what comes next. Will Russia, under your new leadership, move forward and concentrate on the real problems of Russia, which you yourself have aptly articulated? Or will some in your government attempt to keep alive the ghosts of the past?

According to Soviet legislation from the year 1960, an era we all believed was behind us, it is possible for the Procurator General to appeal a Supreme Court decision within one year to the full Presidium of the Supreme Court. That means legal insecurity for a defendant who has been cleared twice – by the City Court and the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation – for yet another full year. This can hardly be the legal system you, Mr. President, were talking about when you spoke of gaining the confidence of the international community.

Evidently, we respect the independence of the courts. But after five years of fruitless investigations and a court acquittal, we urge you to end the persecution by the Administration – the Prosecutor, the FSB – of Aleksandr Nikitin and other environmentalists whose work Russia should use to make much-needed improvements in the environmental situation in Russia as well as to attract international assistance. Silencing the bad-news-messenger will not help Russia in convincing the international community to invest in Russia’s nuclear and environmental safety – at the detriment of the entire world, but with Russia herself in the first line of danger.

In March, Mr. Nikitin’s employer, Bellona, organized a conference in Washington, attended by a number of Deputies of the State Duma and your Administration, on how to increase U.S. support, financial and technical, for Russia’s nuclear safety. Delegates used data from Mr. Nikitin’s work to make the case for the need for urgent international support. Evidently, Aleksandr Nikitin’s, Grigory Pasko’s or Vladimir Soyfer’s work, to name just a few who are persecuted for their research, is undertaken for the benefit of Russia.

Your own Emergency Minister recently disclosed that 90 malfunctions and thousands of safety violations had occurred in the nuclear industry in 1999. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) could be instrumental in helping avoid a major accident at a nuclear installation, if they were allowed to work uninhibited.

NGOs have proven all through the democratic world that they, while certainly sometimes a nuisance to governments or business, are an integral part of a safe and well-governed democratic society. It is no coincidence that the few states that have achieved rapid progress in economic prosperity, science and technology, the people you refer to as the “golden billion” in your thoughts on Russia at the Turn of the Millennium, without exception recognize the rights of people and NGOs to work without fear of harassment and persecution.

The undersigned groups and many others are working towards exactly the same worthy goals which you mention in your Millennium paper. But only if we are free to do so can we continue to advocate Western support for the radical, positive changes in your country.

It would be nothing less than cynical if we here were to advocate the need for roughly $1billion in U.S. support for general-purpose submarine dismantlement in Russia while the scientists and reporters who have done the same in Russia are prosecuted by the potential recipients of that money, the Russian Administration.

We urge you, Mr. President, to move forward from here, not back, by ending the case. Mr. Nikitin has been investigated and tried multiple times. His works continues to help Russia to address internationally the need for nuclear safety funding. We hope your Procurator General will avoid immediate actions after the Supreme Court verdict, so that the broader impact of this case can be re-evaluated by your Administration.

We stand ready to discuss this case as well as the need for comprehensive reform of laws governing NGOs, and would be glad if we could make the case for more assistance to Russia here in the United States, rather than spending our time on problems that ultimately help neither side.

Respectfully Yours

Thomas Jandl, Director
Bellona USA

Joseph L. Birman,
Chair Committee on Human Rights of Sciences
New York Academy of Sciences;
Distinguished Professor of Physics
City College and City University of New York

Stephen Mills, Director
Sierra Club International Program

Micah H. Naftalin, National Director
Union of Councils for Soviet Jews

Joel L. Lebowitz, Paul H. Plotz, Walter Reich, Co-Chairs
Committee of Concerned Scientists

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