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Russian Authorities’ Bad Cheer to Environmental Defenders

December Brought a Spate of Arrests, Fines

Rashid Alimov’s protest in St. Petersburg against nuclear waste import, December 17, 2019. © 2019 © Igor Podgorny / Greenpeace

As 2019 draws to a close, Russian authorities have spent the holiday season harassing environmental defenders taking part in protests across the country.

On December 16, police dispersed a protest camp near the city of Kazan, dragging people by their arms and legs. At least 16 people were fined or received 7 days detention for disobeying police orders and taking part in a “mass simultaneous presence of movement in public spaces.”

The protesters were attempting to delay construction of a waste incineration plant until the contractors make the project documents public, conduct an independent public environmental impact assessment, and hold public hearings as required by law. Instead, authorities sent the Special Police Forces (OMON).

The next day, in Saint Petersburg, authorities detained a Greenpeace Russia staffer, Rashid Alimov, for standing in a solo picket to protest Russia’s import of German nuclear waste. He stood next to 11 empty barrels bearing a nuclear hazard sign that read “Happy New Year” and was holding a placard that read “Russia is not a nuclear dump.” He is now awaiting trial on squatting charges.

On December 20, a court in Moscow sentenced youth climate activist Arshak Makichyan to six days in jail for an unauthorized peaceful protest in October. Since mid-March, Makichyan had been holding solo pickets weekly in Moscow’s center as part of the “Fridays for the Future” strike. Earlier in December, Makichyan spoke at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Madrid with Greta Thunberg, whose example inspired his protest.

These three incidents are emblematic of the variety, scope, and urgency of the rising number of environmental protests in Russia throughout 2019. Protesters are voicing alarm at what they see as an environmental emergency from expansion or construction of new landfills and incineration plants, toxic waste management, nuclear waste imports, pollution from industrial production, natural resource extraction, forest fires, and many other pressing environmental issues. Throughout the year, many other peaceful protesters were arrested, beaten by private security guards or police, and fined, and many faced criminal charges.

But Russian activists appear determined to protect their right under article 42 of Russia’s constitution to a “favorable environment” – despite no indication of a holiday miracle for those arrested in December.

The courage and resilience of Russia’s environmental defenders gives hope that maybe the new year will bring positive change.

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