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Chemist's trial may be near end


MOSCOW -- The judges presiding over the trial of Vil Mirzayanov, the chemist who told the world that Russia was pressing ahead with chemical-warfare research, refused to release him from prison yesterday even though they appeared willing to drop the charges against him.

The three-judge panel agreed to the prosecution's request to send the case back for further investigation. Dr. Mirzayanov's lawyer, Alexander Asnis, said this was an indication the court was seeking a graceful way to bow to political pressure and drop the charges.

"Sending the case for additional investigation is a sort of compromise," the lawyer said. He said Yuri Baturin, President Boris N. Yeltsin's security adviser, had urged the president to intervene on Dr. Mirzayanov's behalf.

But the judges refused to release the 58-year-old scientist from prison, where he has been held since Jan. 27, shortly after his trial began. Mr. Asnis said it might take up to a few weeks to win his release.

Dr. Mirzayanov was accused of disclosing state secrets after he asserted in a 1992 interview with The Sun and in articles in two Russian newspapers that Russia was pursuing chemical-weapons research despite official indications to the contrary.

Dr. Mirzayanov was charged under a secret law. He was arrested when he failed to appear for the second day of his closed trial. He said he considered the charge against him unconstitutional because the new Russian constitution, adopted Dec. 12, outlaws the use of secret laws to prosecute citizens.

Mr. Asnis said yesterday that the judges apparently wanted to punish Dr. Mirzayanov as much as possible for his defiance of authority. The judges themselves offered no explanation, Mr. Asnis said.

Yesterday, about a dozen journalists and Mirzayanov supporters stood for about three hours in the shabby, chilly foyer of the Moscow City Court, waiting for word of the brief proceedings.

Reiner Braun had come from Dortmund, Germany, to lend moral support.

He said German scientists had contributed to a defense fund for Dr. Mirzayanov and had persuaded the German foreign minister to complain about the scientist's prosecution to the Russian foreign minister. They were alerted by American scientists who also have offered support.

"He did a very responsible thing," Mr. Braun said.

Dr. Mirzayanov has been confined in Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where the men accused of staging the 1991 coup were held until their release.

"He asked me to inform reporters that the entire food budget was eaten up by the coup plotters, who were provided with food from restaurants," Mr. Asnis said. "Now they don't even have sugar or white bread, and the food is not fit for a human being."

Dr. Mirzayanov's wife, Nuria, said she had suffered enormously at first when her husband was put into a cell so crowded there was no room for him to sleep for four nights. She had to stand in line for eight hours to leave some food for him, and still has not been able to visit him.

Now, she said, he shares a cell with one other inmate and they can heat water with an electric immersion coil and do a little cooking.

Mrs. Mirzayanov had high hopes her husband would be released yesterday.

"Now I'm starting to get more and more worried," she said. "I was sure this would be a reasonable way out for them, to release him and go on with the investigation."

Dr. Mirzayanov seems an unlikely figure to take on the all-powerful establishment here. He is a small, unassuming man.

"He is so helpless, so naive," said his wife, a frail-looking woman with a musical voice.

"He needs to be led by the hand. I feel sorry for him. He wanted to live in a normal way, he is not interested in politics. But maybe it's his fate."

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