Russian scientists disagree whether chemist gave away weapons secrets

MOSCOW — MOSCOW -- Experts testifying at the closed-door trial of Vil Mirzayanov disagreed yesterday on whether the 58-year-old chemist gave away damaging state secrets when he went public about Russia's continuing chemical warfare research.

The three scientists, whose names were not disclosed, are specialists in chemical weapons.


In testimony that took up most of the day, one scientist said he believes Dr. Mirzayanov violated Russia's official secrets law by damaging the country's defense capability.

But the other two said Dr. Mirzayanov did not give away state secrets in whistle-blowing interviews in 1992 with The Sun and with two Russian weeklies, Moskovski Novosti and Novoe Vremya.


The panel of judges presiding over the trial in Moscow City Court listened to the specialists but made no interim ruling, said Alexander Asnis, Dr. Mirzayanov's attorney.

Expert findings often form the basis of the court's final ruling.

"It's a good sign, but only a sign," said Andrei Mironov, a human rights activist, who has been following the trial along with other supporters of Dr. Mirzayanov.

Scheduled testimony by Sun correspondent Will Englund was postponed yesterday after Mr. Englund requested time to confer with his lawyer.

In a letter delivered to the judges after a subpoena arrived at his home yesterday morning, Mr. Englund described his "grave reservations about participating in a closed trial," citing his four-hour interrogation at Lefortovo Prison last year, which resulted in a "false and artificially constructed" record of his remarks.

"I respectfully request that, in answer to your summons, I may appear in an open courtroom," he said in his letter, "specifically, a court where my lawyer can be present and all members of the press and public who want to attend. There is nothing to which I could testify that is not already public knowledge."

The trial is closed to the public because the indictment against Dr. Mirzayanov concerns state secrets -- although what constitutes a state secret in this case is itself a state secret. So far, no technical or tactical secrets have come up at the trial, according to Mr. Asnis, and the court has refused to allow his client a glimpse of the regulation that forms the basis of his charge.

Dr. Mirzayanov says he is not guilty of divulging state secrets and considers the charge against him to be unconstitutional.


The new constitution, adopted Dec. 12, outlaws the use of secret laws to prosecute citizens.

The court is scheduled to hear testimony today from Lev Fyodorov, a chemist and environmentalist, who persuaded Dr. Mirzayanov to go public about Russia's search for new nerve gases. The trial is expected to continue through the week.