MOSCOW — The Russian Supreme Court on April 13 confirmed the St Petersburg City Court's December 29 acquittal of Aleksandr Nikitin, accused of espionage for writing about the dangers of Russian nuclear submarines.
The appeal by the prosecutor's office in St Petersburg, supported by the prosecutor-general's office, was declared groundless.
Nikitin, a retired Russian Navy captain, ran afoul of the authorities for chapters he wrote in a report on Russia's Northern Fleet of submarines for the Norwegian organisation, the Bellona Foundation.
On October 5, 1995, agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) broke into the Bellona office in Murmansk, where nuclear submarines are rusting at neighbouring naval bases. The agents confiscated computers, background and published material, and all of Bellona's and Nikitin's writings about the radiation hazards posed by the Northern Fleet submarines and run-down nuclear waste storage sites.
The FSB claimed the material constituted state secrets. Nikitin maintained all the information was already publicly available.
On February 6, 1996, other FSB agents came to Nikitin's apartment in St Petersburg. He was arrested and kept jailed in the basement of the former KGB prison at Liteny Prospekt in St Petersburg for 10 months. He was then released on bail, but was not permitted to leave the city.
Nikitin said, "Of course there was no crime, the Bellona report just describes one of the main environmental challenges in Russia. Information about nuclear hazards, waste and accidents onboard nuclear submarines is no threat to national security. It is the nuclear problems themselves that constitute a threat to Russia."
Nikitin says he is not worried about the possibility that newly elected Russian president Vladimir Putin, a former FSB chief, will continue to press the case.
However, the prosecutor-general can still appeal to the Supreme Court Presidium, the highest legal authority in Russia. Such an appeal must be lodged within one year.
Nikitin says he will now continue his work with Bellona for the safe handling of the radioactive waste stored in the Murmansk area.
"We also have to work to support other environmentalists in Russia, who are facing FSB trouble-makers", said Nikitin.
Thomas Nilsen of Bellona said, "Although we can't be sure this verdict guarantees that environmentalists in Russia will be safe from prosecution in the future, it should help a lot. The Russian 'security police' ought to be a lot more careful when choosing their targets after this. Today's victory is not only Aleksandr's, but, more to the point, one belonging to the Russian legal system as well."
Bellona president Frederic Hauge, said, "This Supreme Court decision firmly declares that it is fully legal to work with the issues of environmental safety in Russia ... Now, the Bellona Foundation looks forward to resuming our environmental work in full scale, rather than being guardians of human rights issues."
The entire Bellona Report on Russia's Northern Fleet, co-authored by Thomas Nilsen, Igor Kudrik and Alexandr Nikitin, is available online at: <http://www.bellona.no/imaker?id=10090>
[Republished with permission from the Environment News Service (ENS) online at: <http://ens.lycos.com>.]