Russian chemist charged with revealing secrets

October 24, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Russian security police seized documents from three Moscow newspapers yesterday as they broadened their campaign to clamp down on revelations about poison gas research here.

A chemist who first revealed the existence of a top-secret chemical weapons laboratory was formally charged with divulging a state secret.

The charge stems from an interview Dr. Vil Mirzayanov gave to The Sun Sept. 15 and an article he co-authored in the Sept. 20 issue of Moskovskiye Novosti (Moscow News), although the formal charge does not mention The Sun. A second article in The Sun on Sunday detailed continuing research at the lab into binary nerve gases.

The Russian Ministry of Security -- successor to the Soviet KGB -- accused him of revealing "information about the state of work in the chemical technology that involves state secrets," Moscow Radio said.

Dr. Mirzayanov and two other scientists were taken to Lefortovo Prison by security agents Thursday morning. The other two, Dr. Lev Fyodorov and Dr. Eduard Sarkisian, a toxicologist still working at the lab, were released Thursday evening. Both men were among those who spoke to The Sun.

The case has galvanized human rights activists in Moscow, who view it as the first serious action of the security police since well before the failed coup of August 1991.

The Moscow Helsinki group, led by Alexei Smirnov, a former political prisoner, said it would provide a lawyer for Dr. Mirzayanov. The editors of Moskovskiye Novosti told activists that they were considering paying the lawyer's fee.

Mr. Smirnov's group -- which takes its name from the Helsinki agreement on human rights -- also began planning a campaign abroad in support of the jailed chemist.

Police appeared yesterday at the offices of Moskovskiye Novosti, Argumenti i Fakti and Novoe Vremya, and seized materials being used to prepare articles about the chemical weapons research.

On Tuesday, Novoe Vremya interviewed Lev Fyodorov, one of the scientists who was seized and later released. The warrant for his detention and for a search of his apartment was signed about an hour after the newspaper interview.

Dr. Mirzayanov is a former researcher at the poison-gas lab, known officially as the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry and Technology.

He revealed that research and development of poison gases for wartime use had continued at the lab, despite Soviet announcements that chemical weapons production had been halted as far back as 1987.

Dr. Mirzayanov will remain in custody until his trial. The charge against him carries a penalty of two to five years in prison.

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