Russian whistle-blower denied visit with lawyer He unmasked plan for chemical arms

October 29, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Six days after the scientist who blew the whistle on Russia's chemical weapons program was jailed here, his lawyer has not been allowed to visit him or even look at the secret law under which he is charged.

The lawyer, Aleksandr Asnis, calls the restrictions "ridiculous." But he said yesterday that he is already building the case to free Vil Mirzayanov, the chemist who was taken away to Lefortovo Prison by security police a week ago.

Support for Dr. Mirzayanov came from several quarters yesterday.

Mr. Asnis said he has the backing of the Moscow Board of Trial Lawyers in a challenge he is preparing against the secret law.

Human rights veterans have been plotting ways to bring pressure on the government.

Several major newspapers have featured the case prominently on their front pages, often including caustic commentary.

And the security police themselves have given a hint that the chemist -- who has been held in isolation -- could be released by next week.

In an article Dr. Mirzayanov wrote for Moskovskiye Novosti and in an interview with The Sun last month, the 57-year-old chemist revealed the existence and nature of a top-secret institute for research and development of more effective poison gases while the government was publicly calling for the elimination of chemical weapons.

After a second, more detailed article appeared in The Sun, he was arrested by police from the Russian Ministry of Security, the successor agency to the KGB.

Two other scientists interviewed by The Sun were questioned and then released.

At the time, it was announced that Dr. Mirzayanov had been charged under Article 75 of the criminal code, which forbids the publication of state secrets.

Within two days, the Moscow Helsinki group, a human-rights organization, found Mr. Asnis to represent him. Moskovskiye Novostiye agreed to pay the lawyer's fee.

But Mr. Asnis said yesterday that when he tried to arrange a visit with Dr. Mirzayanov, he was told that such a visit would be impossible because of the chemist's knowledge of state secrets. In fact, even Dr. Mirzayanov's wife has been unable to see him.

Mr. Asnis said he was also told that the chemist faces charges under a secret subsection of Article 75, adopted in 1987, and because the lawyer does not have security clearance he cannot be permitted to read that part of the law.

Investigators did tell him that he could appeal to the prosecutor's office for permission to visit his client.

Ivan Zemlenushin, the prosecutor assigned to the case, was described by his office as being out of Moscow yesterday and unavailable for comment.

The prosecutor is the most powerful figure in Russia's unusual judicial system, generally exercising complete control over a criminal case. The judge is secondary.

Traditionally, the defense lawyer has been selected by the government and is expected to agree with the prosecutor.

In recent years, though, actual defense lawyers such as Mr. Asnis have emerged. But Dr. Mirzayanov's case seems to carry the system to an extreme, Mr. Asnis said.

He pointed out that even Vladimir Kryuchkov, one of the plotters of the 1991 coup, has been allowed to see his lawyer, although as former head of the KGB Mr. Kryuchkov presumably knows a state secret or two.

Mr. Asnis will argue that Article 75 is too vague to apply to Dr. Mirzayanov and that the secret subsection should have no standing in court.

Moskovskiye Novosti, which gave over its front page and an entire inside page to the case yesterday, said the security police had launched a political case rather than a legal one.

The newspaper, in a special statement, called it "a violation of the freedom of the press, which is guaranteed by the Constitution."

"This dangerous precedent," it said, "could become a basis for a return to the practice of preliminary censorship."

Dr. Mirzayanov's only offense, the newspaper continued, was to show Russia's double standard concerning chemical weapons.

"The intention to terminate chemical weapons proclaimed by the leadership of the country is at variance with the real practice," it said.

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