KGB calls arrest of whistle-blower a security matter

November 06, 1992|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- Stung by criticism over the arrest of a chemist who exposed Russia's secret poison-gas research lab, the Security Ministry held a press conference yesterday to defend itself.

The ministry -- still generally known here as the KGB -- invited reporters to its notorious Lubyanka headquarters, where officials said they have every right to protect state secrets and to uphold laws that are themselves secret.

Insults have been heaped on the ministry over the case, said Yuri Demin, head of its legal department. In a "decent" society, he said testily, people who were so abusive of the police would "get their faces slapped."

Security agents arrested the chemist, Vil Mirzayanov, on Oct. 22. They charged him -- under a secret subsection of the Russian criminal code -- with divulging state secrets, and released him Monday to await trial. They have refused to allow his lawyer to participate in his defense because the lawyer, Aleksandr Asnis, lacks a security clearance.

Dr. Mirzayanov was interviewed by The Sun in September and also co-authored an article for Moskoskiye Novosti about the lab, where research into new poison gases continues.

The case has generated a small storm of outrage in the Russian press.

But Alexei Kondaurov, deputy public relations director for the Security Ministry, said the police were simply trying to enforce the law, and not to muzzle free speech.

"Mirzayanov is not a journalist, he is a bearer of secrets," Mr. Kondaurov said. "The charges laid against him are legal."

Officials also defended the conduct of the police, who searched Dr. Mirzayanov's apartment, interrogated two other scientists and seized documents from three Moscow newspapers.

"To suggest that some of the workers of the ministry could perform acts that contradict the law is unthinkable," said Mr. Demin. "I believe our ministry is the most law- abiding institute in the system of state bodies."

He dismissed suggestions that the case was a political one rather than a legal one. "What has politics got to do with it?" he said. "We are proceeding strictly within the norms of the law."

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