Treason trial halted for lack of evidence Ex-Russian officer wrote about radioactive leakage


MOSCOW -- The judge in the treason trial of a former Russian naval officer who helped write a report on Russian nuclear pollution ruled yesterday that prosecutors had failed to compile adequate evidence.

The decision essentially sends investigators back to square one in trying to prove that Alexander Nikitin revealed state secrets.

It is not an acquittal, and officially Nikitin remains under arrest and forbidden to leave the city of St. Petersburg, where the trial began Oct. 20.

The trial has been closely watched by Western human rights and environmental groups, who saw it as a test of whether Russia has left behind its Soviet-era sham trials and persecution of dissidents. Diederick Lohman, director of the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch, said that as far as he was concerned, Russia had failed the test.

Nikitin, 46, was arrested in early 1996, after he wrote sections of a report published by a Norwegian environmental group. The article detailed cases of radioactive leakage from the crumbling submarines of Russia's Northern Fleet.

Nikitin hailed the decision as a major defeat for the Russian government and its Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB.

"This is what we were expecting," he said after the court hearing. "It took them three years of investigation to get zero results."

Nikitin, who retired as a submarine inspector before he began working for the Bellona Foundation environmental organization, was charged with espionage, treason and other offenses so secret that he and his lawyers didn't see the charges until the trial was under way.

Some charges were based on secret laws passed after his arrest and applied to his case retroactively.

Pub Date: 10/30/98

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