UCSJ Action Alert!
Russian Procurator Ignores Nikitin's Petition to Dismiss Charges

Political Prisoner's Defense Team Calls for International Pressure for Dismissal of Charges

TO: Supporters of Human Rights
FROM: Micah H. Naftalin, National Director, Union of Councils for Soviet Jews
DATE: February 22, 1998

RE: The Investigation of Alexander Nikitin

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews is deeply concerned about the fate of Russian environmentalist Alexander Nikitin. Nikitin has been denied the right of due process, and his treatment is in violation of both the Russian Constitution's guarantee of freedom of information for environmental issues and international human rights accords. Nikitin's defense team believes it is essential to continue the political and public campaign in support of dismissal of the charges against Nikitin.

The illegal charges must immediately be dropped in order for the Russian government to improve its international human rights record.

Immediate Action Requested

Letters of protest, demanding the charges against Nikitin be immediately dropped, should be sent to Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin, care of the Russian Embassy. A sample letter is included at the end of this alert. Please send a copy to UCSJ, 1819 H St., NW Suite 230, Washington, DC 20007, so that we can measure the magnitude of the pressure on the Russian Embassy.

Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin
c/o Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007


Alexander Nikitin, an environmental monitor for the Norwegian Bellona Foundation, was arrested in St. Petersburg on February 6, 1996 and charged with espionage for his work on a report that revealed dangerous nuclear waste dumping by the Russian Northern Fleet. After his release from prison, and over the objection of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB, successor to the KGB), Nikitin's case was transferred to the General Procurator's office in Moscow, and the FSB in St. Petersburg was ordered to undertake further investigation in order to provide sufficient evidence for prosecution. The FSB has now been investigating the case for over two years and has failed to produce any proof of Nikitin's guilt.

The charges of Nikitin's alleged espionage hinge on the FSB's allegation that Nikitin published secret information in his report. This allegation is unfounded for two reasons: the Russian Constitution prohibits secrecy of information relating to nuclear accidents as a matter of environmental security, and, in any event, all of the information included in the report was available in the public domain. Further proof lies in the fact that the FSB knew about the report before it was published, and only arrested Nikitin after it was published without attempting to stop him, which would have been their duty if they believed state secrets were being revealed.

Nikitin is also charged with violating secret, ex post facto laws enacted seven months after his arrest by the Defense Ministry. The Russian Constitution prohibits prosecution based on ex post facto laws as well as secret laws that the accused could not have been aware of.

Nikitin's team of lawyers complain that the petition demanding the dismissal of the charges has been purposely ignored by local and national procurators. They assert the FSB is attempting to manipulate the case by bringing it to court before the procurators can respond to the motion to dismiss.

This case is a critical test for Russian human rights and environmental policies as well as for the reputation of Russia as a law-based democracy. It is disturbing that Russia is unable to face up to these enormous environmental problems without prosecuting the citizen who exposed them. It also raises serious questions about whether free speech and the publication of reports criticizing the government will be permitted. The grave issues of due process in Nikitin's case shed doubt about whether Russia has truly abandoned Soviet-style justice.

The Nikitin case also raises the question, who governs Russia? Is it President Yeltsin and his pro-democracy government led by Prime Minister Chernomyrdin; or, is it the nationalistic, anti-West security apparatus and the procurators? Recently, President Yeltsin put the FSB under Chernomyrdin's supervision. What's more, recently the Prime Minister pledged to permit Nikitin to emigrate as soon as the investigations were completed. The investigation having failed, it is time to hold Mr. Chernomyrdin to his word.


Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin
c/o Embassy of the Russian Federation
2650 Wisconsin Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

Dear Prime Minister Chernomyrdin

I am writing to you on behalf of Alexander Nikitin. The FSB has been investigating the case for over two years without producing substantial, legal evidence. Meanwhile, Nikitin has been imprisoned and denied his right to travel and his family has been harassed by FSB officials. Nikitin's arrest and detention, his treatment by the FSB, and the current restrictions on his freedom, violate internationally accepted norms of human rights.

It is clear that the rule of law as embodied in the Russian Constitution has not been followed in this case. Nikitin is being charged with revealing state secrets relating to environmental security, even though the information was in the public domain and the classification of such information is prohibited by the Constitution. He is also being charged with violating secret, ex post facto Defense Ministry decrees, which are also prohibited.

It is in your power, with the FSB under your jurisdiction, to terminate the prolonged and outrageous investigation against Nikitin. We also urge you to request Procurator Skuratov to dismiss the illegal charges against Nikitin before he is brought to trial.

This case is viewed by international environmental and human rights organizations as a crucial test of Russia's commitment to the rule of law and democratic principles.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this important matter.


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Copyright 2007 by UCSJ: Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union.