Summary and Current Status
Alexandr Nikitin is a Russian naval engineer and retired navy captain, who served in the Russian Northern Fleet. He is a research associate with the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian environmental organization.
Mr. Nikitin was arrested on February 6, 1996, in St. Petersburg and detained for more than ten months on charges of treason for his work on The Russian Northern Fleet: Sources of Radioactive Contamination. This report, published by the Bellona Foundation, describes the dangers posed by nuclear dump sites and nuclear-powered submarines of the Russian Northern Fleet. Following his release, the Russian Federal Security Services (FSB) filed new charges of espionage and disclosure of state secrets against Mr. Nikitin eight times. Each of the first seven times, due to lack of evidence, the case was returned to the FSB for further investigation. In early 1999, Mr. Nikitin was charged, once again, by the FSB with high treason and divulging state secrets. The new indictment was again based on secret and retroactive decrees, despite instructions from both the Supreme Court and the Russian General Prosecutor forbidding the use of such decrees in the case.
Mr. Nikitin's trial began in St. Petersburg on November 23, 1999, with Judge Sergei Golets presiding. On December 29, 1999, Mr. Nikitin was acquitted of espionage charges. We understand that Judge Golets found the charges that had been brought against Mr. Nikitin to be unconstitutional because they were based on secret decrees and contravened the European Convention on Human Rights. The Nikitin case was closely monitored by many international groups and governments, particularly members of the scientific, environmental, and human rights communities. We were pleased to learn that more than three dozen international observers were in the courtroom on the opening day of the trial. The distinguished French biochemist and former president of the French Academy of Sciences Marianne Grunberg-Manago observed the November-December 1999 trial as a representative of the International Human Rights Network of Academies and Scholarly Societies.
On December 30, 1999, one day after the acquittal was announced, the FSB appealed Judge Golets' decision. In April 2000, the Collegium on Criminal Cases of the Russian Supreme Court rejected the prosecution's appeal and confirmed Judge Golets' decision to acquit Mr. Nikitin. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Nikitin's passport, which had been confiscated following his arrest in 1996, was finally returned to him. On May 30, the Prosecutor General's office appealed the Supreme Court's decision, calling on the Full Presidium of the Russian Supreme Court to review the acquittal. At the hearing, on August 2, 2000, one of the 11 Supreme Court judges said when the proceedings began that he had been on vacation and had not had sufficient time to prepare himself for the hearing. His request for postponement was immediately granted. At the hearing, which took place on September 13, 2000, the Presidium dismissed the Prosecutor General's appeal against the acquittal. This decision reportedly is final and cannot be appealed again.
From the time of his release from detention in late December 1996 until his exoneration more than three years later, Mr. Nikitin was held under city arrest in St. Petersburg. His wife and daughter, after suffering intense harassment at the hands of the FSB, moved to Canada in 1998. In fall 1999, Mr. Nikitin filed his case with the European Court of Human Rights, but, due to a large backlog of cases, it has not yet been considered by the Court. Although Mr. Nikitin has been acquitted, it is our understanding that the European Court will begin evaluation of his case at the end of 2000 and will establish why the case—which appears to have had no legal grounds—was allowed to remain in the Russian judicial system for some five years without being determined. If the European Court rules in Mr. Nikitin's favor, he reportedly would receive just compensation.