Arrest of chemist ordered

January 27, 1994|By Ann Imse | Ann Imse,Contributing Writer

MOSCOW -- A Moscow court ordered police to arrest a Russian scientist yesterday after he refused to participate in a closed-door trial on charges that he divulged state secrets on chemical weapons research.

"I will be put in jail -- that's obvious," said a tense Vil Mirzayanov, his eyes blinking rapidly as if near tears. Speaking at a news conference before going home to await arrest, the 58-year-old scientist said he felt like a man awaiting surgery.

But he said that he had foreseen the possibility of being jailed in Moscow's feared Lefortovo Prison when he decided in 1992 to reveal that Russia had developed a highly lethal new chemical weapon long after former Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had promised that such research had ended.

Until early 1992, Dr. Mirzayanov had helped cover up Russian chemical weapons tests while working as chief of counterespionage in the institute that developed the weapons. Then he chose to tell the world about his country's continued chemical weapons work in an article he wrote for Moscow News and in interviews with The Sun and Russia's New Times magazine.

Dr. Mirzayanov has argued that his trial is illegal because he is charged under a secret law, and the new Russian constitution approved by voters in December specifically states that "unpublished laws are not valid."

Even the formal charges against him do not quote the law, but instead identify it only by its number.

The scientist called his case a key test of whether Russia would break its centuries-old tradition of political interference in the courts and instead abide by its new constitution.

He called on President Boris N. Yeltsin to "defend the constitution" and halt the trial.

His lawyer, Alexander Asnis, charged that Dr. Mirzayanov is being targeted by leaders of the still-powerful Russian military-industrial complex, including a member of Mr. Yeltsin's staff. He was referring to Gen. Anatoly Kuntsevich, who directed the chemical weapons research program when he was vice commander of the Soviet chemical forces and who now serves as Mr. Yeltsin's adviser on chemical disarmament.

Dr. Mirzayanov was supported in the news conference by representatives of Helsinki Watch and two Moscow human rights organizations, who supported his stand on the illegality of the proceedings.

"What is more clear than the right to be judged by a public trial?" said Rachel Denber of the Moscow office of Helsinki Watch.

"We think it is one of the hottest questions in human rights in Russia today," she said.

"[Dr. Mirzayanov] is defending the constitution and international agreements" on chemical weapons, said human rights activist Andrei Mironov. "The tradition of dissidence is continuing."

In a closed trial on charges of violating a secret law, the Moscow City Court ruled on Monday that it did not need to know what secrets Dr. Mirzayanov allegedly had divulged.

Although Dr. Mirzayanov spent 11 days in Lefortovo Prison when first charged in 1992, he said he had hoped the case would be dropped after adoption of the new constitution.

Dr. Mirzayanov's attorney said he was encouraged slightly yesterday when the prosecutor -- whom he'd previously described as Stalinist -- told the court there was insufficient cause to arrest Dr. Mirzayanov.

"I'd like to think that it means a change in attitude in the prosecutor's office," Mr. Asnis said, but he added that he had no concrete indication of any easing in political pressure for a conviction.

But the three-judge court ignored the prosecutor's statement and ordered Dr. Mirzayanov arrested anyway. The court then suspended the trial until Feb. 3, even though it already had scheduled testimony in the coming days. Rights activists said this might indicate that the judges expect new instructions.

Two policemen armed with AK-47s visited Dr. Mirzayanov's home three times on Tuesday and yesterday to try to force him to attend the trial.

On the first try, they left after the scientist's wife, Nuria, pointed out that their orders were dated the next day. On the second and third tries, Dr. Mirzayanov was not at home.

Instead, he spent the night at his daughter's home, talking with family, supporters and reporters.

Dr. Mirzayanov spoke of President Bill Clinton's recent summit with Mr. Yeltsin, complaining, "Clinton comes and congratulates them on democracy. What for? This is a fascist country. Everyone knows there are no laws, no constitution."

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