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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Nikitin Freed

Air Date: Week of

Charles Maynes reports from Moscow on the recent acquittal and release of Alexander Nikitin. The former Russian naval officer had been on trial for treason for allegedly giving state secrets to a European environmental group documenting radioactive waste at a submarine base in the Arctic Ocean.


CURWOOD: It's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood. Russia is rapidly changing. The so-far peaceful succession of the presidency is one sign, and a little-noticed court verdict is another. Alexandr Nikitin was found not guilty and freed by a judge in St. Petersburg. Charles Maynes reports.

(A voice intones in Russian)

MAYNES: After four years of trial delays, a judge in St. Petersburg says Alexandr Nikitin committed no crime when he helped environmental activists gather information about the radioactive pollution of Russia's Arctic waters. Speaking from his home in St. Petersburg, Nikitin said he's delighted.

NIKITIN: [Speaks in Russian]

TRANSLATOR: The ruling really shook me. I'd hoped for this, of course, but it was still a sensation.

MAYNES: Nikitin's troubles began when the former naval officer used his knowledge of Soviet warships to help a Norwegian environmental group, Bellona, publish an atlas of accidents and contamination among rusting nuclear powered submarines in Russia's northern fleet. Agents in the former KGB read the report and accused Nikitin of treason for revealing state secrets. But defense attorneys argued the material had been publicly available, some of it even copied from Russian school books. In dismissing the case against Nikitin, the judge upheld Russia's post-Soviet constitution, which declares that issues such as heavy nuclear pollution a vital public interest, and could not be considered state secrets. Greenpeace Russia's Ivan Blokov says the ruling may go some way toward bridging the gap between rights written in the law books and those etched out in the current Russian reality.

BLOKOV: The decision of the court is very important for the democratic development of the country as a whole. Maybe some of it too ambitious to speak about on this scale, but it's certainly extremely important for the whole country. Now you can realize that you can work with information, that you cannot be put into the prison for using, distributing, and collecting information, which is connected with your basic rights.

MAYNES: Nonetheless, Alexander Nikitin said it had been hard living under the weight of government accusations. He said security agents had harassed him during his years under trial. When they allegedly bugged his phone and damaged his car, his wife and children decided they had had enough. They left Russia and went to live in Canada. Still, Nikitin says he'll continue his work in Russia.

NIKITIN: [Speaks in Russian]

TRANSLATOR: In the new year, I'm going to try to catch up on time lost. I'll continue to work for the environment and for human rights. I'm absolutely convinced that environmental activism is right.

MAYNES: Nikitin's case drew worldwide interest. Amnesty International named Nikitin a prisoner of conscience, the first Russian to hold that title since the fall of the Soviet Union. He also received prizes from human rights and ecology lobbyist organizations, such as the Goldman Environmental Foundation in California. Alexander Nikitin's case could now go to Russia's Supreme Court for appeal, but the ruling is seen as a setback to the old guard in the Russian government. Attention will now focus on the ongoing similar trial of another former serviceman accused of environmental espionage in the Far Eastern city of Vladivostock. For Living on Earth, this is Charles Maynes in Moscow.



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