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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Protesters Arrested After Rally For Nikitin

ST. PETERSBURG -- Two people who participated in a small demonstration in support of environmental activist and accused spy Alexander Nikitin were arrested Wednesday when they refused to comply with police orders to disperse.


About 20 OMON and police officers armed with riot gear and machine guns were on hand long before the scheduled protest began outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, or FSB, on Liteiny Prospekt. Police ordered the demonstrators to disperse seconds after they began to unfurl their banners.


The two arrested -- Yury Vdovin, vice president of Citizens' Watch, a human-rights group instrumental in organizing the protest, and Igor Soshnikov, a representative of the political party Russia's Democratic Choice -- were charged with disturbing the peace when they refused to leave their posts.


However, at a hearing Thursday, Judge Olga Vasilenko said the complaint, filed by the FSB, lacked corroborating witnesses and was improperly filed. She gave the FSB until Friday to produce witnesses and proper documentation.


The 20-man, pro-Nikitin protest was the only one to result in arrests in a week that saw 7,000 students take to the streets to demand higher stipends, and dozens of similar protests Wednesday, the official Day to Remember the Victims of Political Repression.


"Had this gathering taken place anywhere but in front of the FSB building, there would have been no trouble at all," said Boris Pustintsev, president of Citizens' Watch. "This is a tactic by the FSB to scare people away from drawing attention to the [Nikitin] case."


Nikitin, a former naval captain, has been incarcerated at FSB headquarters for nearly nine months on suspicion of espionage for his contribution to a Bellona report critical of the Russian Navy's handling of nuclear waste.


The FSB alleges Nikitin relied on classified information for his co-authorship of the report. His supporters say the information was drawn exclusively from the public record.