Russian whistle-blower wins harassment suit

June 09, 1994|By Will Englund | Will Englund,Moscow Bureau of The Sun

MOSCOW -- Vil S. Mirzayanov, the chemist who told the world about Russia's continuing chemical weapons research, won an unprecedented civil suit yesterday against the authorities who tried to send him to prison for leaking state secrets.

A Moscow district court awarded Dr. Mirzayanov 30 million rubles, about $15,750.

Two-thirds of that is to come from the Prosecutor General's Office and the rest from the top-secret laboratory where he once worked and which had pursued the charges against him.

"Today's victory marks the first time in Russia when a citizen has been genuinely able to defend himself," Dr. Mirzayanov said last night.

His lawyer, Alexander Asnis, told the Interfax news agency that the ruling was an unprecedented decision protecting an individual against arbitrary action at the hands of the state.

In a September 1992, interview with The Sun and in a Moscow newspaper article, Dr. Mirzayanov asserted that Russia had developed a potent new nerve gas and that efforts to create new chemical weapons had continued long after first Soviet and then Russian authorities had renounced such research.

He was arrested a month later by what was then called the Ministry of Security. After being held 11 days, he was charged under a secret law and released to await trial.

That trial began in January of this year, behind closed doors. Dr. Mirzayanov was again jailed, this time for a month, when he refused to cooperate.

The trial fell apart in March after a witness said records of interrogations in the case had been distorted.

In his suit, filed shortly after his release, Dr. Mirzayanov also named as a defendant the Federal Counterintelligence Service, which assumed the role formerly played by the KGB and the Ministry of Security. It was the Ministry of Security that conducted the investigation of his case.

However, the court ruled that the Counterintelligence Service is not a legal successor to the ministry, and so was not liable.

Dr. Mirzayanov, a slight, 59-year-old scientist who had once diligently pursued a career at the State Union Scientific Research Institute for Organic Chemistry, has emerged from his experiences as a fired-up activist.

He said he plans to use the court award to help set up a new laboratory that will study the environmental problems of chemical weapons disposal.

He has also become active in the movement to improve the generally horrendous conditions of Russia's jails.

At the same time he is pressing his request for a passport, so that he might travel abroad. He has, for instance, a standing invitation from American scientists to visit the United States.

The Counterintelligence Service has denied his request.

The agency, which tried for a year and a half to put him in prison for spilling state secrets, has argued that he still possesses sensitive secret information and can't be trusted to keep it to himself outside Russia's borders.

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