Antinuclear activists in Belarus

BELARUS/2012-2013

Belarusian citizens still experience the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster from 1986. The blast  from the largest Soviet Union nuclear power plant, located in Ukraine, only 18 km from the border, contaminated 23 per cent of Belarusian territory and negatively affected millions of people. It will take about 300 years for the radioactive Caesium-137 and Strontium-90 to clean up naturally and up to 240,000 years for the Plutonium isotopes! Nuclear energy does not have a good image in Belarus and raises fears.

Government against antinuclear activists in Belarus

Belarusian nuclear power plant near Ostrovets, placed about 20 km from Lithuanian border and 50 km from its capital Vilnius, raises a lot of concerns by the public and the experts for numerous technical violations and legislation breaches as well as of the human rights during its construction. In particular, the excavation  for the reactor building´s first unit was started without the project license or state expertise. Andrey, Tatyana and other activists and organizations wanted to tell to Russian prime minister about these issues when he came to Minsk to sigh credit agreement for the Ostrovets nuclear power plant, and request him to step down from the project. Critics also mentioned, that the project strengthens the dependence of Belarus on the Russian Federation.

Citizens against the construction

A strong opposition began to form among citizens and experts, but it´s a hard job to be an environmental activist in Belarus, and since the beginning of the antinuclear campaign, the people involved have been experiencing oppression by governmental institutions.

The history of harassment of the Belarusian antinuclear campaign activists started in 2008 when president Lukashenko adopted the “final political decision on Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) construction” in the country.  The Government used its traditional methods, from administrative persecution (arrests, fines, searches, deportations) to intimidations. This pressure was targed against peaceful activists including the experts who pointed to the poor quality of official documentation, such as a lack of environmental impact assessment.

Locals in the sights

The Belarusian town Ostrovec was chosen as the best place for the construction of a nuclear power plant  and was selected in violations of the law and without consultations with citizens or neighboring countries. In 2008 activists of the local campaign “Ostrovets nuclear power plant is a crime”  handed about 300 signatures on a petition to  president Lukashenko calling him to abandon the site.  Independent mass-media began to  report on the  brave locals which marked the beginning of their persecution by the government - campaign organizers Nikolay Ulasevich and Ivan Kruk suffered organized provocation including being searched   fined and detained. Other activists were also intimidated by local authorities, who demanded that they stop campaigning.

This had the effect of reducing the number of active opponents in the Ostrovets district significantly, despite mass opposition to the construction of nuclear power plant in the country, that had suffered so much from Chernobyl.

Violating public order

On October 9 2009, Russian nuclear expert Andrey Ozharovskiy was arrested for 7 days in Belarusian town Ostrovets under hooliganism charges. It was a day of public hearing on Environmental impact assessment (EIA) of Belarusian nuclear power plant project.  Andrey was invited there by NGO Ecohome, as an expert critic of the official environmental impact assessment, and was also officially registered as a participant of that hearing. Nevertheless,he was detained by the secret service officers on his way to the hearing. They handled him over to police who also seized his documents.

Later in 2012, Tatyana Novikova,  a journalist and the coordinator of the Belarusian anti-nuclear campaign, with Andrey Ozharovskiy were heading to the Russian embassy in Minsk. Their aim was to hand over an open letter informing the Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev about the violations of the technical norms and legislation on the nuclear power plant construction near Ostrovets, for which the Russian Government were going to grant a credit of about 10 billions  US dollars.

They were both detained by the police before they reached their destination. Their alleged offence was of violation of the public order by using brutal language on the street,

As a result, the district court  sentenced Tatyana Novikova  to 5 days and Andrei Ozharovsky to 10 days in prison, but on top of that, the police banned Izharovsky from entering Belarus within the next 10 years and he was deported.

Their colleagues - Ecohome member Irina Sukhy (who was planning to help delivering the open letter to the Russian Embassy) and human rights activist Mihail Matskevich (who wanted to help detainees), were also detained the same day 18th of July 2012 near the offices of Green Network and convicted of  hooliganism. Irina was fined and Mihail arrested.

Preventive arbitrary detentions

On April 26, 2013, a group of environmental activist from NGO Ecohome were collecting banners in the flat of organization’s founder, Irina Sukhy. Tatyana Novikova was among them. They were just planning to leave the flat and start on the traditional Chernobyl March, organized annually in Minsk to remember the sad anniversary.

Suddenly, police officers dressed  in civilian clothes appeared, stopped the people coming out from the flat and detained them for several hours. Tatyana was, on the other hand, blocked by the police for another three hours in the flat – despite the fact she was authorised as an organizer of the Chernobyl March  by official application for permission for such a public event. The detained activists were released from the police station at  9 p. m., when the march was already over.

It is a common practice for police officers in Belarus to detain activists in order to prevent their participation in street actions or other planned activities. They call it preventive detention.

Although Belarusian anti-nuclear campaign still continues, the Ostrovec power plant is under construction, so the entire case has an open end so far… More information can be found at Ostrovec nuclear plant – we are against! (Russian only) and on the Facebook page of the Belarus Antinuclear Campaign - https://www.facebook.com/antinuclear.belarus/

Some of the facts of the persecution were recorded in the reports by the Human rights organizations: “Vesna” (Spring) http://spring96.org/ru/news/63110, Amnesty International https://www.amnesty.org/download/Documents/12000/eur490022013ru.pdf, and also - in the Decision by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee in July 2017, which charged Belarus with  violation of the item 3(8) of the Convention http://www.unece.org/fileadmin/DAM/env/pp/compliance/C2014-102/ece.mp.pp.c.1.2017.19_advance_edited_for_website.pdf.