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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SAY WHAT? :Coming Soon, Media War II: Nikitin's Trial




On Wednesday, the St. Petersburg City Court is expected to announce a verdict for Alexander Nikitin, an environmentalist whom the FSB - the main KGB successor agency - accuses of espionage and treason for his work critiquing the way the Russian Navy disposes of its nuclear waste.


The FSB prosecutor demands that Nikitin, 47, be sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment. Others, including the U.S. White House, governments across Europe, the human rights group Amnesty International and various environmental organizations, have offered votes of respect for Nikitin as an environmentalist, and condemned the FSB's case.


Nikitin spent nearly a year in jail during the four-year FSB investigation into his co-authorship of a report about the navy's nuclear waste published by the Norwegian environmental organization Bellona. The FSB has at times based its case on government decrees that came into force only after the report was published, including two decrees the FSB argued were "secret" and so could not be shown even to Nikitin or his lawyers. It early on tried to deny Nikitin a lawyer; and over the years FSB operatives have kept up petty harrassment of the Nikitins, from bugging their family telephone to slashing the tires of the family car.


All of this has been accompanied by hostile local media coverage. St. Petersburg's major television channel, Petersburg, this year alleged that Nikitin had passed military information to NATO.


Some journalists - myself included - have covered the case with less of an agenda. For our pains, we have ourselves become targets.


One of my colleagues has lost four jobs because he refused to write lies about Nikitin and his trial. Another was told by the FSB that his telephone conversations were being taped. Yet another was warned by the FSB to "be very careful." And last week, I and my colleague Tatyana Artyomova were shown on Petersburg TV in footage that insinuated we were on the take.


"Bellona ... certainly spends enormous amounts of money on those representatives of the mass media who are ready to serve their customers with their writing," reported the "Beyond the Law" program. As the cameras panned across my face and that of Artyomova, a journalist from Posev, one of the better-known dissident magazines of years past, the narrator continued, "We have found out how much ... journalists receive for covering the trial and creating an image of Nikitin as a martyr. On their conscience be it."


By way of response, I'd like to recall a few facts about the people who are the conscience of Petersburg television.


The station's news director was appointed this spring, fresh from his job as ... head of the FSB press center. That was another fine appointment courtesy of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev. It was in the same vein as Yakovlev's decision in April to name the former KGB official Pavel Koshelev as a top city culture official. On his first working day, Koshelev told me that working with "creative intelligentsia" would be old hat.


"In the 1970s and 1980s, our country had concrete ideological enemies, who ... decomposed the country," Koshelev said. " ... my goal was to determine and disarm foreign emissaries - Zionists, Americans, Germans - who influenced the country through the creative intelligentsia."