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Are Ecologists The New Dissidents In Post-Soviet Russia

A Moscow Greenpeace activist wears a gas mask participating in a protest action in front of Russian State Duma, Monday 09 October 2000, demonstrating against the nuclear pollution in Russia. AFP Photo Epa/Yuri Kochetkov
Moscow (AFP) Jan 17, 2002
The case of Russian journalist Grigory Pasko, jailed last month for spying after telling Japanese media about illegal dumping of Russian nuclear waste, has highlighted the risks run by ecologists here.

Those who attack the Russian army, which ecologists claim is one of the country's biggest polluters, could easily find themselves in prison, just like the dissidents during the Soviet era.

Pasko, a 40-year-old former reporter for the newspaper of the Pacific Fleet was sentenced to four years in prison for "high treason", after he told Japanese journalists about illegal dumping of nuclear waste by the Russian navy into the Sea of Japan.

He is not alone. Russian navy Captain Alexandre Nikitine was charged with spying in 1996 for handing over information to a Norwegian environmental organisation.

Nikitine was able to clear his name, but only after spending ten months in prison.

As defense employees, both men were extremely well informed about Russian military activity.

"The ecology movement is different from other NGOs, like the women's movement or the movement for peace, because these were both formed by the state during the Soviet era. The ecologist movement comes from society," explained Lev Fiodorov, co-president of the Socialist and Ecologist Union.

Russian deputy Sergei Mitrokhin, a member of the liberal opposition party Iabloko, said the state is not ready for ecologists.

"The state is used to people defending human rights which has gone on for 30 years, however it is not ready to answer questions posed by ecologists."

"The Pasko affair shows that any information that ecologists wish to make public could be used as an excuse for legal proceedings against them," the deputy added.

"Ecologists have become the dissidents of our time."

The liberal deputy stressed that a conflict of interests existed between government ministers and society.

"There is a conflict of interest between ministers, particularly the defense and atomic energy ministers, who want to keep their activities secret, and society, which wants to know what has happened," said Mitrokhin.

A Greenpeace activist lies on the deck of the Russian cargo vessel 'Byisk,' which is suspected of carrying illegal timber, after boarding it in the Sea of Japan 04 July 2000. Five Greenpeace activists, from Russia, Japan, the UK, Israel and Australia, briefly occupied the vessel as it continued on its course into Japanese territory, but were thrown overboard by the ship's crew and rescued by a Greenpeace vessel. AFP Caption/Photo
According to the deputy, more and more sections of both ministries' budgets are being classified as secret.

Since 1992, Russia has consistently tried to limit access to information, claims Ivan Blokov, a Greenpeace leader in Russia.

"In 1993, the environment minister was charged with managing natural resources but then the brief was passed to another ministry. In 1996, it was changed to a simple state committee, and then this committee was dissolved in 2000," the Greenpeace activist said.

Blokov claims that the state ecology committee was disbanded because it clashed with an oil extraction scheme over the risks to fishermen and grey whales in the same area as the oil rig.

Ecologists claim that it is corruption which prevents a proper defence of the environment.

Despite public opinion strongly against the move, the Russian government last year agreed to take in nuclear waste from abroad, with a sweetener of 20 billion dollars (22 billion euros).

All rights reserved. 2002 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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Putin Ready To Consider Pardon For Jailed Russian Journalist
 Paris (AFP) Jan 15, 2002
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he was ready to consider a possible presidential pardon for Russian journalist Grigory Pasko who was jailed last month for spying. "If Mr Pasko launches an appeal for a pardon, it will be looked into," Putin said at a joint press conference in Paris with French President Jacques Chirac.

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