Antinuclear activists in Belarus

BELARUS/2012-2013

Belarusian citizens continue to experience the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster from 1986. The blast from the largest nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union, located in Ukraine, only 18 km from the border, contaminated 23 per cent of Belarusian territory and had a negative effect on 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

The Belarusian nuclear power plant near Ostrovets, situated about 20 km from the Lithuanian border and 50 km from its capital, Vilnius, raises a lot of concern on the part of the public and experts because of its numerous technical violations and breaches of legislation as well as of human rights during its construction. In particular, the excavation for the reactor building’s first unit was started without a project licence or state expertise. Andrey, Tatyana, and other activists and organizations wanted to tell the Russian Prime Minister about these issues when he came to Minsk to sign the credit agreement for the Ostrovets nuclear power plant and request him to step down from the project. Critics have 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 the harassment of the Belarusian antinuclear campaign activists started in 2008, when President Lukashenko adopted the “final political decision on the construction of a Nuclear Power Plant (NPP)” in the country. The Government used its traditional methods, from administrative persecution (arrests, fines, searches, and deportations) to intimidation. This pressure was targeted against peaceful activists, including the experts who pointed to the poor quality of the official documentation, such as the lack of an environmental impact assessment.

Locals in the sights

The Belarusian town of Ostrovets was chosen as the best place for the construction of a nuclear power plant and was selected in violation of the law and without consultation with citizens or neighbouring countries. In 2008 activists from the local campaign “the Ostrovets nuclear power plant is a crime” handed a petition with about 300 signatures to President Lukashenko, calling on him to abandon the site. The 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 from organized provocation, including being searched, fined, and detained. Other activists were also intimidated by the 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 a 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 and held for seven days in the Belarusian town of Ostrovets on hooliganism charges. It was on the day of a public hearing on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Belarusian nuclear power plant project. Andrey was invited there by the NGO Ecohome as an expert critic of the official environmental impact assessment, and was also officially registered as a participant in that hearing. Nevertheless, he was detained by secret service officers on his way to the hearing. They handed him over to the police, who also seized his documents.

Later in 2012, Tatyana Novikova, a journalist and the coordinator of the Belarusian anti-nuclear campaign, was heading to the Russian embassy in Minsk together with Andrey Ozharovskiy. 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 construction of the nuclear power plant near Ostrovets, for which the Russian government was going to grant a credit of about 10 billion US dollars.

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

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

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

Preventive arbitrary detentions

On April 26, 2013, a group of environmental activists from the Ecohome NGO were collecting banners in the flat of the 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 who were coming out from the flat, and detained them for several hours. Tatyana was, on the other hand, blocked in the flat by the police for another three hours – despite the fact that she was authorized as an organizer of the Chernobyl March by an official application for permission to organize 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 them from participating in street events or other planned activities. They call it preventive detention.

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


Further readings

RUS 07/05/2013 Report of human rights organization Viesna

RUS 2013 Report of Amnesty Internation

ENG 24/07/2017 Decision of the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, which charged Belarus with violation of item 3(8) of the Convention