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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Supreme Court Set to Rule on Nikitin Case




With the Supreme Court set to rule Wednesday on his acquittal, navy captain-turned-environmentalist Alexander Nikitin said Tuesday he was anxious for the four-year-long ordeal finally to be over.


Nikitin was charged with treason and espionage in 1996 after contributing to a report published by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona about the Northern Fleet's careless handling of its nuclear waste. He was found not guilty by the St. Petersburg City Court in December, but the acquittal was appealed by the city prosecutor's office.


"I am absolutely calm. I very much want for it to be over because we [Bellona] have a lot of work to do in the environmental field," he said at a news conference held at the National Press Institute. "I am tired of going to court."


Environmental groups and activists have come under strong government pressure in the past several years. Last summer, Vladimir Putin, who at the time headed the Federal Security Service, said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda that foreign intelligence services are likely to use environmental organizations for cover. He also promised that the FSB will keep a close eye on environmentalists who work in Russia.


Nikitin said it remains to be seen how Putin will look on environmental activists now that he's been elected president.


"The development of state policies toward them [environmental activists] will be a small indicator of how the country will develop under him [Putin]," Nikitin said.


Jon Gauslaa, a lawyer with Bellona, said at the news conference he did not think that Putin would influence the outcome of Wednesday's hearings.


"When Nikitin was acquitted, Putin was prime minister and he didn't influence the court decision," Gauslaa said. "I don't think he would try to influence it now."


Ragnhild Tschudi, vice chairman of the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, who came to Moscow to observe the hearings, said she hoped the Supreme Court will be guided by "the law and only the law" when it makes its decision.


"Human rights movements all over the world are closely watching this case," she said. "The Supreme Court hearing will be a prominent test for the rule of law in Russia."


The Supreme Court is to begin hearing the appeal at 10 a.m. Journalists and observers would not be allowed in the courtroom during the hearings, court officials said, but the court's decision would be announced in an open session. Nikitin's lawyer, Yury Shmidt, said he expects the decision to be announced in the early afternoon.


If the Supreme Court upholds the St. Petersburg court decision, prosecutors can still appeal to the Presidium of the Supreme Court. If the court overturns the lower court decision, the case is returned to the FSB for months or even years of additional investigation.


The St. Petersburg prosecutor who supervised the FSB investigation into the Nikitin case, Alexander Gutsan, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Prosecutor General's Office spokeswoman Natalya Veshnyakova said she could only comment after the Supreme Court announces its decision on the case.