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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ruling Allows Nikitin to Choose Counsel

Jailed environmental researcher Alexander Nikitin received a welcome boon Wednesday when the Russian Constitutional Court ruled that defendants charged with revealing state secrets may choose their own lawyer.

Nikitin, a former navy captain, was arrested Feb. 6 in his St. Petersburg apartment and accused of high treason. The Federal Security Service, or FSB, said he had sold state secrets concerning military nuclear facilities in the Kola peninsula to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona.

The FSB has prevented Nikitin, 43, from meeting his lawyer, Yury Schmidt, on the grounds that Schmidt does not have security clearance.

"We're very, very happy with this decision," said Bellona General Manager Frederic Hauge in a telephone interview after the ruling.

"What we have done up to now is to fight for the most elementary human right, the right to defend oneself. This decision gives us the right to a fair trial, even if the harassment from the FSB is continual." Hauge said Nikitin had given Bellona nothing but public information.

Hauge said Nikitin's wife is still barred from visiting him in prison and added that he believed the company's telephones are tapped by the FSB. Nevertheless, he said the court's decision made him optimistic about the case's future.

"The FSB must now realize that we have won the first round," he said. "The rest is only a little battle and we'll fight them on it all the way."

An FSB spokesman refused to comment, saying he had no information concerning the court's ruling.

The Supreme Court's decision came one day after President Boris Yeltsin announced that Russia would allow Nikitin the freedom to choose his own lawyer.

"I'm not a judge," Reuters quoted him as saying after talks in Oslo with Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, during which the case was raised. "I'm higher than a judge."

But Constitutional Court spokeswoman Anna Malysheva said Wednesday that Yeltsin had absolutely no influence on the court's decision.

"The two events are in no way connected," she said.

"The court's decision is never connected with politics and essentially this decision was made days ago and there were just a few details that needed to be taken care of."

Malysheva said Nikitin's case was one of four appeals to the Constitutional Court in which defendants accused of revealing state secrets had been prevented from choosing their own lawyers.

Hauge said he intended to make Nikitin's case a major issue in the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations summit on nuclear safety to be held April 19 to 20.

"If there is not enough openness on problems in the region then there is little chance of the cooperation we need to tackle them," Hauge said.