MOSCOW -- Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov agreed yesterday to answer questions during his closed-door trial on charges of betraying state secrets, although he still considers the procedure unconstitutional, his lawyer said.
"After some hesitating, Mr. Mirzayanov has decided to give evidence," said Alexander Asnis. "It's his last attempt to clarify his stand."
Meanwhile, as the trial which began Jan. 24 finally had its first full day of testimony, a report circulated that President Boris N. Yeltsin had agreed that the case was unconstitutional and should be dropped.
According to the Russian news service Itar-Tass, Mr. Yeltsin met yesterday with National Security Adviser Yuri Baturin, who "informed the president in detail on the circumstances of the case."
That meeting came amid growing public support for the chemist and criticism of the case's legal basis.
Mr. Mirzayanov, 58, charged with betraying state secrets after he revealed the existence of Russia's chemical-weapons research in 1992, was jailed Jan. 27 after ignoring a court order summoning him to trial. For the past two days, he has been brought under guard to the Moscow City Court from his prison cell.
The charges could be dropped under Article 6 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which takes into account "changed circumstances" surrounding a criminal case, Itar-Tass reported. The change in this instance would be the Dec. 12 referendum approval of a new constitution forbidding criminal charges from being brought on the basis of secret regulations.
Mr. Mirzayanov, facing up to five years in prison, has been barred from seeing the unpublished regulation that governs the prosecutor's charge.
Mr. Baturin could not be reached for comment, but Tass correspondent Tamara Zamyatina told The Sun that the security minister informed her that a move to drop the case is likely "in the nearest future."
Under one scenario, the prosecutor would simply withdraw his indictment. In another, the Supreme Court would rule that the City Court process should be halted as unconstitutional.
Acknowledging that "for the powers that be, using Article 6 would be a way out," Mr. Asnis stressed that he would still seek to prove his client's innocence. "It's not a good decision from the judicial point of view," he said.
He said he would appeal to the Supreme Court even if his client is released under Article 6. He said, however, that he was pleased with Mr. Baturin's desire to help, and hoped the judges were aware of it.
"Our courts are subtle," he said, ironically. "They have always listened to what the high bureaucrats are saying. Let's hope the same system will work now."
Yesterday, the three-judge court heard testimony from Leonard Nikishin, science editor at Moscovski Novosti, one of two Russian weeklies that published Mr. Mirzayanov's 1992 accusation that Russia was continuing to test deadly chemical compounds while publicly advocating a ban on the weapons. His comments also appeared in the Russian magazine, Novoe Vremya, and in The Sun.
"I told them that there were no secrets in the article, just as I told my interrogators at Lefortovo," Mr. Nikishin later told journalists, referring to the KGB prison and investigation center.
At the same time, Mr. Mirzayanov made two motions to the court, Mr. Asnis said: One asked for a new panel of judges, the other for the trial to be opened to the public.
"We lost both motions," the lawyer said. "As for Mirzayanov's pretrial detention, we won't make a motion to release him, because he still doesn't want to come to court voluntarily."
Thursday, police guards assigned to Mr. Mirzayanov turned back at the courthouse door rather than escort him through a large group of supporters and journalists.
Yesterday, police sealed off an entire wing of the courthouse so that Mr. Mirzayanov could be brought into court unnoticed.
The trial continues Monday.