Arrested activist Ozharovsky still lawyer-less and writing own appeals from Belarus jail cell – Russian diplomats have yet to intercede

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Publish date: October 13, 2009

Translated by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – Russian nuclear physicist and Bellona contributor Andrei Ozharovksy, who was arrested Friday for alleged disorderly conduct during a public state environmental impact study hearing on a Belarusian nuclear power plant (NPP) had still as of late Monday night not been allowed to consult legal counsel.

Though he has apparently spoken with a public defender, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs still appears to be steering well shy of the case, and Ozharovsky remains in a cell isolated for the most part from communication with his colleagues and family.

Ozharovsky, who works as a physicist for the Russian Ecodefence environmental group, was arrested while distributing copies of a report entitled ““Critical Notes on the State Environmental Impact Study for the Belarus Nuclear Power Plant”  – of which is he is co-author – during public hearings on the NPP which is slated to be built in the Grodno Region town of Ostrovets.

The report he was distributing is a collaborative effort between several physicists, which concludes that the Belarusian project is untenable.

While he stepped outside to get more copies of the report, he was prevented from re-entering by police and representatives of the company building the plant. He was arrested and taken to a police station, and later in court, charged with disorderly conduct and with striking members of the OMON special police unit.

He was sentenced to seven days in jail by the Ostrovets court.

Ozharovsky’s colleagues say they have been allowed no ongoing communications with him as local legislation forbids meetings prisoners convicted of administrative violations – thought they have been able to exchange notes with Ozharovsky. In his notes, he asks that his family members be contacted and to find a lawyer to appeal the verdict against him. The notes have also apparently contained other information as well, though local police have reused to fully disclose their contents, saying that they are “not allowed to distribute that information.”  

For three days, Ozharovsky was unable to locate a lawyer in nearby towns, as all the lawyers he succeeded in contacting refused to take his case. A lawyer in Minsk who was contacted by representatives of the Ostrovets court said he would not take the case and refused under any circumstances to say why, contacts of Ozharovsky told Bellona Web.

Late Monday, Ozahrosky wrote his own appeal to the court in an attempt deal with Belarusian administrative legislation. At 5pm Belarus time Ozharovsky was visited by a lawyer from the public defenders office located next to the court house, and Ozharovsky’s supplementary appeal was accepted.

On Monday evening, Bellona turned to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a request that he “take the given situation under his personal control and give an order to the diplomatic representation of the Russian Federation in the Belarusian Republic to provide Ozharovsky with consular assistance.”

Earlier reports from various news agencies had indicated that Ozharovksy had expressed no interest in meeting with Russian consulate representatives. But Bellona Web learned that this was not the case. Members of the Moscow Helsinki Group had contacted the Russian consul general in Belarus as early as Friday, while Ozharovsky was still in police custody.

At that time, the Moscow Helsinki Group told officials they must take part in the situation, including the organisation of a meeting in Ostrovets between Ozharovsky and consular officials.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry, however, has thus far limited its involvement in the Ozharovksy case to senind a note to its Belarusian counterparts, reading: “This note has nothing to with a note of protest, We are acting in accordance with the Vienna convention and ask the Belarusian side to provide us with detailed information about the arrest of a Russian citizen and the essence of the accusations against him,” Vadim Guzev, an advisor to the Russia embassy, said.

At present, no representatives of Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry have turned up in Ostrovets for a meeting with Ozharovsky. Ozharovsky himself is waiting for the review of his appeal in the Grodno Regional Court, which, according to Belarusian law, must be reviewed within three days.