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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Weakened Nikitin Denied Bail

ST. PETERSBURG -- Human rights activists and defense lawyers are concerned about the deteriorating health and morale of environmental expert Alexander Nikitin after more than half a year in prison.


Appearing Friday at the sixth unsuccessful bail hearing since his arrest on suspicion of treason in February, Nikitin was dazed, visibly fatigued, unshaven and several kilograms thinner as he arrived at the Oktyabrskaya region civil court under heavy police escort.


Judge Olga Krivosheyeva once again declined bail for Nikitin, saying he was a risk to flee despite written guarantees from several Russian and international human rights organizations and activists who said they would ensure Nikitin's appearances at future court dates and investigative interrogations.


The court also extended for the sixth time the deadline for the Federal Security Service, or FSB, to formally file charges against or release Nikitin. The deadline, which had been set to expire Friday, was moved back to Oct. 6.


Arriving at the closed-court session, Nikitin met the cheers and shouts of support from family members, activists and well-wishers with a blank stare, in sharp contrast to the fiery bearing that characterized his appearances at earlier hearings.


In the past, Nikitin's trademark greeting to supporters and journalists was a fist in the air and a yell of "We will prevail."


On Friday, however, his only words when he was being led out of the courtroom back to the FSB detention transport were, "Until next time."


Nikitin, a former officer in the Russian navy, was arrested by the FSB in February for allegedly furnishing classified information to the Norwegian environmental group Bellona for a report on the dangers of Russia's deteriorating Northern Fleet in the Murmansk Oblast on the Kola Peninsula.


Nikitin's lawyers have argued the information was not classified and was, in fact, widely available to the public.


Yury Vdovin, co-chairman of the local human rights group Citizens' Watch, said conditions in the FSB detention facility on Liteiny Prospekt have been exceedingly uncomfortable following St. Petersburg's recent heat wave and the seasonal outbreak of mosquitoes.


"There are no fans and prisoners have to lie naked in order to stay cool," said Vdovin, who has toured the detention facility, in an interview Friday.


According to Vdovin, two prisoners are kept in 2-meter by 4-meter cells which during the summer have no glass in their barred windows allowing temperatures to reach near 40 degrees Celsius.


Vdovin said food in the jail was of poor quality and that Nikitin "would literally die" were it not for the food parcels he receives from his family.


Sergey Starkov, chief jailer at the FSB detention facility, was on vacation Monday, and his assistant would not comment on conditions for prisoners or the causes of Nikitin's deteriorating health.


Starkov's assistant also would not comment on the amount of money spent per day on maintaining prisoners at the facility.


According to Vdovin, however, Starkov said last week that the poor conditions in the FSB jail were due to lack of funds.


The Council of Europe, which Russia joined in March, requires member nations to spend at least $10 per prisoner a day, but Vdovin said the FSB is not meeting this minimum requirement. He had no official estimate for FSB expenditures, but said it was far under the council's minimum.


Tatyana Lenyova, chairwoman of the St. Petersburg division of the International Red Cross, said the organization planned to send a delegation to the facility later this week.


"Nikitin is obviously undernourished and we plan to offer assistance when we have a full medical examination," she said Monday.


Nikitin's wife, Tatyana Chernova, said Friday that her husband's morale was low during a recent visit to the facility and that he had lost at least five kilograms from his 70-kilogram frame.


"I have no idea what they are doing in the jail, but he is getting no exercise, is only allowed to shower once a week and says he is losing hope," she said.


Cheronova said her husband, who was jailed to facilitate the FSB's investigation, has not been questioned in more than a month.


Chief Investigator Igor Milyushkin could not be reached for comment on the progress of the investigation Monday.


Under Russian law, suspects can be released at the discretion of the court to a social organization or on bail of up to $10,000.


Petitioners for Nikitin's bail include Sergey Kovalyov, former human rights adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, State Duma deputy Yuly Rybakov, Yelena Bonner, the widow of human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, and the Soldiers' Mothers Organization of Russia.