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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Drop Cases Vs. Nikitin, Neverovsky

Two court decisions last week send messages of hope to friends of Russian democracy. Both concern men of proven moral stature who deserve all of our respect. And both desperately need to be followed up by appropriate action and apologies from the government.

On April 17, the Supreme Court ruled that environmentalist Alexander Nikitin was not a spy and not a traitor simply because he was concerned enough about nuclear waste in and near Murmansk to publicize it as a danger.

For his pains, Nikitin spent nearly a year in jail without being charged. For part of that time he was denied a lawyer and, after he fell ill, a doctor. When he was charged, it was with violating "secret" Defense Ministry decrees - decrees so secret that not only had they never been published, but prosecutors from the FSB admitted at one point that they themselves had never seen them.

On April 18, conscientious objector Dmitry Neverovsky was released after having served five months of a two-year sentence. His crime? He had insisted on his constitutional right to an alternative civilian service instead of a stint in the army.

Neverovsky shared an eight-bed cell with 32 prisoners, sleeping in shifts. "After two or three months there, a person just starts to rot. Scrapes and things stop healing. There's no oxygen, no vitamins, no sun," he recalled at a news conference on Monday.

But he said he would do it all over again rather than go into the army: "Beliefs aren't worth much if a person isn't ready to suffer for them."

Nikitin and Neverovsky are patriots of a Russia where members of society have a responsibility to each other, and where the Constitution is treated with respect.

And if the new management in the Kremlin shares that vision of Russia, it ought to do right by both men.

Nikitin has been acquitted, but prosecutors refuse to close his four-year ordeal. They have instead mused aloud of appealing to the Supreme Court presidium, on the ludicrous grounds that ... they violated Nikitin's rights the first time around. So, once more, with feeling.

Neverovsky is in similar limbo. What's more, no one seems in any hurry to let men who want to serve their country do so. Instead, such men are left to bribe their way out of military service, leaving Russia poorer and the corrupt richer.

Drop the cases against both men. It will be good international PR for Russia - and a step toward building a Russia that won't need to obsess over what kind of international PR it's getting.

- Matt Bivens