Environmental defenders under threat

On World Environmental Day (June 5), the Russian Social-Ecological Union (RSEU) reporting of ongoing attacks on environmental defenders. Over the 5 months of 2020, 63 new episodes were recorded in relation to more than 170 eco-activists, groups and NGOs in 20 regions of Russia at 32 environmental struggles. RSEU has been monitoring persecution of environmentalists since 2012 and demands solving environmental problems and protecting eco-activists.

From January to May 2020 at least 10 environmental activists were subjected to attacks, property damage and threats (7 persons for January-May 2019). It is known that 4 new criminal cases were opened (5 cases in January-May 2019). In relation to 98 activists administrative offense reports were drawn up (110 in January-May 2019), including 41 stay-home regime violation reports.

Most pressure counts were registered in Moscow (17), Bashkortostan (8), Arkhangelsk Region (8), Tatarstan (7) and Moscow Region (4).

The basic pressure counts are traditionally related to problems of waste handling, extraction of natural resources and construction projects: to construction of landfill sites (9 counts at the station Shiyes of Arkhangelsk Region, 1 in Povarovo of Moscow Region and 1 near the farmstead Vesyoly of Rostov Region), construction of waste incineration plants (7 in Osinovo settlement in Tatarstan and 1 in Timokhovo of Moscow Region), plans for the development of Kushtau shihan (mountain) for extraction of soda in Bashkortostan (8), cutting down of gardens (4 in Festivalnaya Street in Moscow for the construction of Residential Estate “Festival Park 2”, 3 in the vicinity of Ramenki in Moscow for the construction of Residential Estate “Legasi”, 2 in Vologda for the construction of a day-care center), the construction of the South-Eastern bypass through the landfill site of the Moscow Plant of Polymetals (4); and the plans for the construction of a plant for processing of highly toxic waste in Kambarka, Udmurtia (2).

There is continual pressure on public associations. The public organization “Bashkort”, which advocated the defense of Kushtau shihan in Bashkortostan, declared extremist on 22 May. On 3 March, the Moscow City Court dismissed an appeal of the “Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North” against the actions of the Ministry of Justice of Russia resulting in the disbanding of the organization in November 2019. In relation to the organization “Citizens’ Initiative Against Environmental Crime” on 15 May the court sustained a fine of 300 thousand rubles for the violation of the “foreign agents” law (p.1, art.19.34 of the Administrative Violations Code). In Kaliningrad there is an ongoing criminal prosecution of the director of “Ecodefense!” Aleksandra Korolyova, pursuant to the article on malicious non-compliance with a court decision (p. 2, art. 315 of the Criminal Code).

New criminal cases were opened: the opponent of the South-Eastern bypass section construction Aleksandr Kolotov is in the status of a witness in the criminal case on damaging a radiation meter of RADON company, the opponent of the construction of a logistic center in Chuvashia Liliya Govorova is accused of application of force to a representative of authority (art. 318 of the Criminal Code), the fighter with a carwash from Krasnodar Krai Sergey Pinyagin is accused of willful moderately severe bodily harm to a yard-keeper who attacked the campaigner’s wife (art. 112 of the Criminal Code), and the opponent of the construction of a machine-building plant in Kazan Aleksandr Davydov is accused of a “deliberately false denunciation” (p. 1, art. 306 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation).

In Chelyabinsk there is an ongoing criminal prosecution of the campaigners of the movement “Stop GOK” (Stop Mining Complex): Vasily Moskovets is tried for instigation to hooliganism by previous concert (p.2, art. 213 of the Criminal Code) and malicious destruction of property on hooligan motives (p. 2, art. 167 of the Criminal Code), and Gamil Asatullin for hooliganism perpetrated by a group of persons (art. p. 2, art. 213 of the Criminal Code) and attempted malicious destruction of property (art. p. 2, art. 167 of the Criminal Code). In Arkhangelsk Region five defenders of Shiyes are tried: Valery Dzyuba, Vyacheslav Grigoryants, Andrey Starkovsky, Denis Drobinin, for “self-will” (p.2, art. 330 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), Valery Dzyuba also for grievous bodily harm (p. 1, art. 119 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), Mikhail Gabov continues to be tried pursuant to the article “Assault and Battery” (art. 116 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation). The campaigner of the movement “Kurgan-Antiuran” Lyubov Kudryashova is accused of calling for terrorism (p.1, art. 205.2 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation), in January her home was searched.

The largest administrative pressure count was the arrest of 63 opponents of the South-Eastern bypass section construction. Reports on participation in an unapproved action (p. 6.1, art. 20.2 of the Administrative Violations Code) and on disobedience to the requirements of police officers (p. 1, art. 19.3 of the Administrative Violations Code) were drawn for each of the arrested.

In April and May drawing stay-home regime violation reports (art. 6.3 and 20.6.1 of the Administrative Violations Code of the Russian Federation) became a widespread way of pressure – since 1 April they almost entirely substituted reports on violation of procedures for conduct of public events (art. 20.2 of the Administrative Violations Code) and resistance to demands of police officers (art. 19.3 of the Administrative Violations Code).

“The attacks on environmental defenders are systemic: unsolved environmental problems lead to conflicts, and conflicts are accompanied by the persecution of eco-activists. The global environmental crisis leads to an increase of human rights violations and attacks on environmentalists. Russia is no exception. Only a systemic change in the relationship between man and nature will solve these problems”, – says Vitaly Servetnik, RSEU co-chair.

RSEU demands to stop pressure on environmental defenders, to investigate all cases of attacks to and harassment of eco-activists. A necessary measure to protect them is the proper investigation of environmental violations, the resistance of which involves cases of prosecution. To prevent conflicts, free access to information and broad public participation on environmentally significant issues should be ensured.


Additional Information:

On the situation in January-May 2019 (in Russian)

Annual reports on situation for environmentalists in Russia (in English) 

List of eco-NGOs recognized as foreign agents from 2014 to 2020 (in English)