Justice prevails – winner takes it all

Publish date: December 7, 2001

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

A Court in St. Petersburg ruled today that a local TV-channel has to pay Aleksandr Nikitin and Bellona compensation for the outrageous espionage-accusations it made against them two years ago.

In the midst of the trial against Aleksandr Nikitin in December 1999, the TV-channel “Petersburg” was running sub-series called “Tracing Bellona” in its weekly “Beyond the law” [Vne Zakona] program. Formed like documentaries, the programs were clearly aimed at scandalising the Bellona Foundation and Aleksandr Nikitin.

Now, the statements made on TV have been declared null and void, and TV “Petersburg” has to broadcast a disclaimer. It also has to pay, not much, but still it has to pay. Nikitin will get 10.000 roubles (approximately 350 US$), and Bellona slightly less.

“Tracing Bellona”

In programs sent on November 29, and December 6, 13 and 20, 1999, the program-makers served a number of blatant lies against Nikitin and Bellona, in order to present Bellona as a spy-ring operating under an “ecological cover”, with Aleksandr Nikitin as its agent.

It was for instance claimed that a number of Bellona-employees had been arrested near the nuclear test site at Novaya Semlya in 1990, and that it “had become known later” that Bellona’s work in Russian waters is carried out on behalf of the US Navy.

Bellona-leader Frederic Hauge was accused of having been willing to “give up all his sources information in Russia if the case against Bellona was dropped”. The reporter then added, “such a price is paid only for valuable agents.” Moreover, the organisation had paid “enormous sums of money” to journalists so that they would write positively about Nikitin.

The above-mentioned is indeed a twisted version of the reality. No Bellona employees were arrested at Novaya Semlya. It has never “become known” that Bellona works for the US Navy, as this is a blatant lie. The only thing Bellona ever offered regarding their “sources”, was to prove that all the information in the Bellona-report on the radioactive pollution in the Russian Northern Fleet is taken from open sources. And the budgets of Bellona confirm that the organisation is not able to pay “enormous sums” to anyone.

Access to the case files

It is also noteworthy that throughout the series, a number of the case documents were shown on TV in close up-shots. The fact that the program-makers had been given access to the ‘secret’ case files clearly reveals the channel’s tight link with the FSB. Actually its then editor in chief was the former press-spokesman of the St. Petersburg branch of the FSB.

The programs had obviously been prepared long time in advance, as shots were made not only in St. Petersburg, but also in distant places like Murmansk and Yakutsk in Eastern Siberia. It was no coincidence that they were shown in November and December 1999, while Nikitin stood trial at the St. Petersburg City Court.

Head of Nikitin’s defence team Yury Schmidt saw the series as a clear attempt, not only to smear Bellona and Nikitin in the public eye, but also to put the witnesses of the case and the Court itself under pressure. — Watching TV Petersburg is like returning to the nineteen thirties, said Yury Schmidt at a press conference on December 9, 1999, when he also promised that he would take the program-makers to Court. — If we don’t get remedy within the Russian court system, the issue will be taken to an international Court, he said.

Winner takes it all

In the subsequent program in the “Tracing Bellona” series, the reciter ridiculed Schmidt’s statements. — There is not a Court in the world that would accept to handle such a case. Now a Court has not only accepted to handle the case, but ruled in Nikitin’s and Bellona’s favour.

It is not yet clear whether the TV “Petersburg” will appeal the decision or not. According to observers present at the hearing, this is however, unlikely. Thus, it is reason to believe that the decision will stand, and that the last sentence of the last chapter of the saga of the case against Aleksandr Nikitin finally has been written.

Nikitin’s saga is the saga of a winner, as he did not only get fully acquitted of the charges of espionage and disclosure of state secrets. He has won all cases he has launched in the wake of the acquittal against those who throughout the case against him, publicly claimed that he was a spy, a traitor and a criminal. So, even if there is still some doubts regarding the independence of the Russian legal system, it has again shown its capability to let justice prevail – at least in some cases.