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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Coup Trial Prosecutors Dismissed

The 12 men accused of plotting the August 1991 coup won an indefinite reprieve in their treason trial on Tuesday when a military board of Russia's Supreme Court dismissed the prosecution team.

Granting a motion from the defense, Major General Anatoly Ukolov, the presiding judge, said that by publishing a book on the investigation eight months before the trial opened, Public Prosecutor Valentin Stepankov and his deputy, Yevgeny Lisov, had committed "serious violations" and infringed on the defendant's rights, according to news agency pool reports.

He said the court would ask the Russian parliament to consider how the "real independence" of the nine-member prosecution team could be ensured. Although Stepankov and Lisov are not participating directly in the trial, lawyers for the accused had argued that state prosecutors were too likely to be influenced by their boss.

The trial, which resumed Tuesday following a break during the illness of one of the defendants, has now been suspended indefinitely to await the parliament's decision. It was not immediately clear when the legislature would take up the issue; Stepankov is a member of parliament.

The prosecutor's 319-page book, "The Kremlin Conspiracy", tells the story of the three-day coup attempt through documents and witness testimony compiled by the prosecutor's office during its pre-trial investigation.

The chronological compilation is an attempt to demonstrate the guilt of the "emergency committee" that put Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev under house arrest from Aug. 18-21, 1991, and sought to replace him with a hardline regime.

The book makes no effort to hide its partiality, as demonstrated notably by its paper cover -showing a distorted, screaming face and raised fist.

Stepankov has been strongly criticized, by President Boris Yeltsin and many others, for his decision to publicize the investigation files before the trial, although this is not prohibited by Russian law.

Lawyers for the defendants opened Tuesday's session by arguing that Stepankov had biased the case, pronouncing the guilt of the accused before the trial had even begun.

"The very title of the book shows that the public prosecutor has an opinion on the case and is not objective", said Alexei Galaganov, lawyer for former Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov. "It is a very crude infringement on the rights of the accused. It is unprecedented in world practice".

Stepankov's spokesman, Alexander Zvyagintsev, declined Tuesday to comment on the Supreme Court order. But the public prosecutor has previously defended his decision to publish the book, saying that he had "a moral right" to inform the public of the details of a crime that had affected the entire country.

Two of the defendants, Pavlov and Oleg Baklanov, the former Communist Party secretary for the military-industrial complex, have filed a separate lawsuit against Stepankov and Lisov for publication of the book. The case is now being heard in the Dzerzhinsky district court in the capital.

Baklanov said in a telephone interview after the trial that he and Pavlov were suing the two prosecutors because the book had caused the 12 defendants "irreparable harm".

"There are many facts in the book that were not checked or are not true", he said. "It's an insult to us and our case".

Baklanov and the other defendants have demanded the removal of the prosecution team because of Stepankov's alleged bias since the trial opened April 14.

They have also protested a court decision to exclude all but a handful of the press from the proceedings, which are being held in a cramped courtroom in the Supreme Court on Ulitsa Vorovskogo, and have demanded that the trial be moved to a larger venue.

The trial, which has aroused little public interest, has now been postponed twice. The court was forced to adjourn only three days after opening proceedings when Alexander Tizyakov, 67, a defendant, was hospitalized with chest pains.

The 12 men, who also include former Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev, former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov and former Soviet parliament speaker Anatoly Lukyanov, have been charged with high treason in the form of a conspiracy to seize power. If found guilty, they could be sentenced to death.