Sun reporter called to testify in trial of Russian accused of divulging 'secrets'

February 08, 1994|By Deborah Stead | Deborah Stead,Special to The Sun

MOSCOW -- Will Englund, a Moscow correspondent for The Sun, has been called to testify at the closed-door trial of Russian scientist Vil Mirzayanov, who publicly accused Russia of maintaining a secret chemical-warfare research program.

Mr. Englund, who wrote an article for The Sun in September 1992 based on Dr. Mirzayanov's allegation, was telephoned yesterday from the Moscow City Court and asked to appear at today's morning session.

He responded by requesting an official summons and later said he would ask for a delay "until I have a chance to confer with my lawyer," who is recovering from the flu.

Dr. Mirzayanov, 58, who worked at a top-secret Moscow laboratory from 1965 to 1992, is accused of divulging state secrets under charges stemming from his interview with The Sun and from articles appearing in two Russian weeklies, Moskovski Novosti and Novoe Vremya.

Mr. Englund said he may also request that any testimony he gives be delivered in open court.

"I think my newspaper takes a dim view of its reporters participating in a closed-door process," he said. "What worries me is the possibility that exists for distorting what I would have to say."

Russian courts typically provide a summary, but not a verbatim account, of witnesses' testimony.

Mr. Englund said that "documents already filed with the court distorted what I said to an investigator last spring."

In April 1993 the Ministry of Security, successor to the KGB, interrogated Mr. Englund about his articles for four hours in an interview room at Moscow's Lefortovo Prison.

"I emphasized over and over that Dr. Mirzayanov had given me no technical information in my interview with him, but that was deleted from the report filed with the court," he said.

Asked at Lefortovo to sign the interrogator's account of the session, Mr. Englund refused.

Last Friday, the court called as a witness Leonard Nikishin, science editor at Moskovski Novosti. Mr. Nikishin told reporters waiting outside the courtroom that he testified to the "non-technical, non-tactical" nature of Dr. Mirzayanov's revelation that Russia was developing a deadly new nerve gas.

The trial continued yesterday, after a report Friday by the Itar-Tass news agency that President Boris N. Yeltsin may consider the case "anti-constitutional" because it is based on unpublished regulations about state secrets. Under the Russian constitution approved by voters Dec. 12, citizens may not be prosecuted under secret laws or regulations.

The defense already had termed the case unconstitutional, but the court has refused to consider the issue.

Officials seemed to be distancing themselves yesterday from the legal proceeding, perhaps to avoid looking as if they have undue influence over the judiciary.

"Our courts are independent," said Sergei Svistunov, a spokesman for Mr. Yeltsin. "This is a matter for the prosecutor and the judges."

Alexander Asnis, Dr. Mirzayanov's lawyer, told journalists and supporters waiting outside the courtroom that he thinks the trial will proceed "for a week at least." The court heard testimony yesterday from Stanislav Sokolov, a scientist at the Organic Chemistry Research Institute, the secret lab where Dr. Mirzayanov worked.

The three-judge tribunal also heard a request from Mr. Asnis to summon some prominent witnesses, including former Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov and two liberal legislators -- Lev Ponomaryov and Gleb Yakunin.

Dr. Mirzayanov claims he appealed to these officials with his accusations about the continuing chemical weapons research long before he went public, and that he turned to the press only when they failed to act on his allegations.

The court will rule on Mr. Asnis' request today.

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