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Russia: Nikitin Case Appealed To Supreme Court

St. Petersburg, 6 November 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Both the prosecution and defense in the trial of environmentalist and ex-navy captain Alexander Nikitin have appealed to the Russian Supreme Court last week's ruling by the Saint Petersburg City Court to send the case back for further investigation.

According to the state-owned ITAR-Tass news agency, chief prosecutor Alexander Gutsan complained that the lower court had drawn what he described as "premature conclusions" about the evidence against Nikitin.

In his decision, City Court Judge Sergei Golets said the prosecution's charges were too vague. He told the Federal Security Service (FSB) to specify precisely what secrets Nikitin had made public.

Nikitin is being tried on charges of treason and passing military secrets about the Russian Northern Fleet's nuclear waste-disposal practices to activists from the Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona. Nikitin co-authored a 1995 environmental report for Bellona.

If convicted, Nikitin faces up to 20 years in jail. The FSB, which is the post-Soviet successor to the KGB, arrested him in February 1996. He spent the next 10 months in jail and is still not allowed to leave the Saint Petersburg city limits.

While Golets' decision was seen as a partial victory for the defense and a first step toward freedom for Nikitin, the defense continues to insist the case be thrown out of court. Nikitin's lawyers cite the prosecution and court's alleged violations of international legal standards.

In the West, the prosecution's handling of the Nikitin case would have almost certainly led to an acquittal, according to a recent report by the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch. The international organization has closely monitored the case.

"(The prosecutor's) appeal was not unexpected," Nikitin told RFE/RL yesterday. "But today we sent our own appeal to the Supreme Court asking them to throw out the case."

Nikitin also said: "Despite the seemingly positive decision made by the court a week ago, its decision still does not meet international standards of justice. Under those standards, the case should be closed if the prosecution cannot prove the charges it has brought against me."

The Supreme Court is obliged to rule on the appeals within a month. Should it not rule in Nikitin's favor, he intends to appeal the case to the European Human-Rights Court in Strasbourg, France. As a member of the 40-nation Council of Europe, Russia would be obliged to accept the human-rights court's decision.

Nikitin said that, over the next month, he and his lawyers will be preparing material for the Strasbourg court in case the Russian Supreme Court does not rule in his favor. In his words: "We plan to prove that the case against me has violated international legal norms."

(John Varoli is a regular contributor to RFE/RL based in Saint Petersburg.)