HELSINKI COMMISSION CHAIRMAN URGES CLINTON TO RAISE NIKITIN PERSECUTION IN G-8 SUMMIT WITH PUTIN
(Washington) - Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today urged President Bill Clinton to raise with Russian President Vladimir Putin the persecution of a former Russian Navy officer accused of obtaining and divulging “state secrets” in connection with his work exposing harmful nuclear waste disposal practices by the Russian Navy.
Alexandr Nikitin, the former Russian Navy Captain and environmental activist, had been cleared of espionage charges by a three-judge panel of the Russian Supreme Court after four years of investigation and two trials. But such good news was short lived when prosecutors on Wednesday filed an appeal to take the case to the full Supreme Court.
“This is persecution, not prosecution,” Chairman Smith said today at a congressional briefing where Nikitin detailed his legal ordeal. “President Clinton will have the perfect opportunity to raise Mr. Nikitin’s case tomorrow with President Putin when the two are together in Okinawa, Japan for the G-8 summit meeting.”
Nikitin had been accused of obtaining and divulging “state secrets” in connection with his work with the Norwegian environmental organization “Bellona” in exposing harmful nuclear waste disposal practices by the Russian Navy in the White Sea region. Arrested in February 1996, he was held in pre-trial detention for ten months, and then released under the condition that he not leave St. Petersburg.
In 1998, after several attempts by the St. Petersburg Procuracy and the Russian security services to produce a viable indictment, Nikitin’s first trial ended inconclusively, with the judge sending the case back for further investigation. He was finally acquitted in December 1999, a decision upheld by the Russian Supreme Court panel in April 2000.
While in detention in 1996, Nikitin was awarded the Goldman Prize for Environmental heroism.
Chairman Smith met with Nikitin in St. Petersburg in 1999 during a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly. Chairman Smith also discussed Nikitin’s case with Russian parliamentarians during the Assembly.
Nikitin is currently director of the Environmental Rights Center in St. Petersburg.
To schedule a print or broadcast interview with Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith, please contact the Commission office at 202-225-1901.