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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Espionage Trial Adjourned Until February

KALUGA, Russia - A Russian court on Tuesday adjourned hearings in the espionage trial of a Russian arms control researcher after defense lawyers asked for more time to study the accusations against their client.

The delay was the second requested by lawyers for Igor Sutyagin, a researcher at the USA and Canada Institute in Moscow who is accused of using his academic work as cover for spying. Sutyagin has denied the charges.

Chief defense lawyer Vladimir Vasiltsov said he requested the delay so an additional lawyer can study the case materials. He had asked on Dec. 26 that the court delay hearing so Sutyagin could review these materials.

The judges agreed Tuesday to adjourn proceedings until Feb. 26, and dismissed an objection from prosecutors who wanted the trial to resume Feb. 10.

Vasiltsov praised the judges' decision, saying they acted fairly. "They didn't meet the prosecutors' demands for even the slightest restrictions of the defendant's rights," he said after leaving the closed-door hearings in Kaluga, the district center of Sutyagin's home region southwest of Moscow.

The trial is the latest in a spate of espionage trials that human rights activists say signal a revival of the powers of Russia's secret services and a witch hunt for independent thinkers.

The Federal Security Service, which initiated the case against Sutyagin, says it is cracking down on spies it says have infiltrated Russia amid the lawlessness that followed the Soviet collapse.

The case follows the trial of American businessman Edmond Pope, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for espionage in December. Pope was pardoned by President Vladimir Putin on Dec. 14 and has returned to the United States.

Sutyagin, 35, has spent 14 months in jail awaiting trial. But he received the first details of the charges against him only in an indictment filed on Dec. 15, according to Vasiltsov.

Meanwhile, Sutyagin's wife Irina Manannikova said her husband has contracted a skin disease which causes painful blisters after living in a cramped cell with other inmates. "He has trouble walking, he has blisters on his feet," she said.

Reporters were able to glimpse Sutyagin briefly at the trial. He appeared pale, but smiled at well-wishers gathered outside the courtroom.