Aleksander Nikitin, a Russian former submarine officer and nuclear safety inspector turned environmentalist, started to co-operate with Norwegian environmental Bellona Foundation in 1994. He was arrested in February 1996 by Russian FSB and charged with treason through espionage for his contributions to a Bellona report on the nuclear safety within the Russian Northern Fleet. On 30 August, Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience and began in international campaign for his release. After having spent 10 months in pre-trial detention in Saint Petersburg he was released on the order of Mikhail Katushev, the then deputy Russian Prosecutor General, in December 1996.
The charges were however, not dropped. Nikitin first stood trial in October 1998, when the St. Petersburg City Court rejected the evidence against him. But rather than acquitting him, the Court sent the case back to the FSB for additional investigation. The Supreme Court confirmed this decision in February 1999, and the FSB filed new charges in July 1999.
The second trial started at the St. Petersburg City Court in November 1999, and ended on December 29 with a full acquittal. The prosecution appealed to the Supreme Court, but the acquittal was confirmed and reached legal force on April 17, 2000.
The Prosecution was, however, not willing to call it a day. On May 30, 2000 the Prosecutor General requested the governing body of the Russian Supreme Court, the Presidium, to re-open the case. The basis for the request was that “Nikitin's rights had been violated throughout the proceedings against him, and that these violations had to be repaired” (sic). The Presidium rejected the request on September 13, 2000.
Aleksandr Nikitin is still engaged in environmental and human rights issues in Russia. He is the head of Bellona Foundation’s St. Petersburg branch, and is engaged in environmental and nuclear safety projects, as well as in human rights cases. In 1997, Nikitin was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize, but as a result of treason charges against him, he was prevented from attending the Prize ceremony.