Whistle-blower trial delayed in Moscow

February 04, 1994|By Deborah Stead | Deborah Stead,Special to The Sun

MOSCOW -- The closed-door trial of jailed Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov was postponed again yesterday as it developed further into an early test of Russia's new constitution.

Yesterday's trouble occurred when a dozen armed guards refused to escort the 58-year-old scientist through a courthouse corridor lined with journalists and human rights activists. Dr. Mirzayanov is being tried on charges of revealing Russia's advances in chemical weaponry

The guards were bringing him from the Matrosskaya Tishina prison, where he was taken Jan. 27 after refusing to participate further in his trial.

Outside the Moscow City courthouse yesterday, in the biggest show of support so far for Dr. Mirzayanov, dozens of demonstrators held placards demanding, "Dismantle the Secret Military-Industrial Complex," and, "Support the Constitution."

Later, they joined journalists, including television cameramen, in the second-floor hallway near the trial's assigned courtroom.

As Dr. Mirzayanov was led up the stairs, his guards suddenly turned back, declaring the courtroom "inaccessible."

The trial is scheduled to resume today.

Supporters of Dr. Mirzayanov asserted that yesterday's uproar reflected the growing power in Russia of public opinion and the press.

"Before, with dissidents, the attention came just from the underground press or from jammed foreign voices," said Andrei Mironov, a human rights activist and former dissident. "The Mirzayanov case is the first where the Russian mass media has really intervened."

As Mr. Mironov sees it, the officials prosecuting Dr. Mirzayanov are embarrassed by the publicity.

"They are scared," he said, as the police left the courthouse. "A Kalashnikov has a barrel of only 7.62 millimeters, whereas the 'barrel' of a TV camera is bigger. That's the difference."

Accused of divulging state secrets, Dr. Mirzayanov, who denies the charge, claims that his trial is unconstitutional.

For example, the indictment against him is based on an official regulation that outlines exactly what constitutes a state secret.

But in a Kafka-like twist, this list of categories is not published or available, even to the defendant and his lawyer.

The constitution approved by voters Dec. 12, prohibits prosecutions based on such secret laws.

"The constitution says if laws are not made public, they cannot be used against people," said Alexander Asnis, Dr. Mirzayanov's attorney. "Our position is that until the list is published, there can be no case. That's why Mirzayanov refused to go to court. And that's why the judge has to have him arrested and brought to court by force."

During his recent detention, Dr. Mirzayanov was kept in a holding cell so overcrowded that he was unable to sleep for four days, according to his lawyer.

"He just stood," said his wife Nuriya, who has been denied visiting privileges.

Later, Dr. Mirzayanov was assigned to an empty bed in a relatively spacious cell once occupied by former Soviet Prime Minister Valentin S. Pavlov, a defendant in the August 1991 coup trial.

Dr. Mirzayanov was first detained in October 1992 after he made public the existence of a secret Russian scientific facility devoted to developing new binary chemical weapons.

His disclosure was made in interviews with The Sun and two Russian weeklies, Moskovski Novosti and Novoe Vremya.

The scientist's revelations appeared to fly in the face of Russia's public support for an international treaty banning chemical weapons. (About five years earlier, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and then-Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze had announced a unilateral halt to chemical weapons testing here.)

Dr. Mirzayanov was arrested and held incommunicado for 11 days in the KGB's Lefortovo Prison before being released pending his trial. Will Englund, The Sun's Moscow correspondent who interviewed the scientist, was questioned about his story.

Since the scientist's arrest, public support has been growing for Dr. Mirzayanov.

The Russian human rights group, Memorial, has taken up his cause, as has the international rights organization Helsinki Watch.

In a letter addressed to President Boris N. Yeltsin, Helsinki Watch said that the case "grimly recalled old Soviet practices."

Mr. Yeltsin has not yet made any public statement about the trial, but his chief security adviser, Yuri Baturin, met over the weekend with Vladimir Uglev, a scientist who supports Dr. Mirzayanov and who threatened to disclose detailed technical information about Russia's chemical weapons if his colleague's appeals were not heard.

Dr. Uglev, 47, a former chemist who worked until 1990 at a chemical weapons site in the Saratov region said he was "satisfied" with what Mr. Baturin had to say at the Saturday meeting.

"We talked for more than an hour," he said. "He heard me out."

Yelena Bonner, the activist and widow of dissident physicist Andrei Sakharov, has chided the Russian Academy of Sciences for failing to come to Dr. Mirzayanov's aid as his rights were being "violated," according to the Itar-Tass news agency.

Ms. Bonner pointedly recalled the academy's lack of support for her husband when it was under Soviet auspices.

And at a news conference last week, United States Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering referred critically to the trial.

"It seems more than strange to us that someone could be either persecuted or prosecuted for telling the truth about an activity which is contrary to a treaty obligation," he said.

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