Yury Bandazhevsky, an expert on the consequences of radioactive contamination caused by the Chernobyl catastrophe, who has been languishing in a Belarusian prison has experienced a resurgence of support from international rights groups following a visit to the country by European Union officials. Among these groups demanding Bandazhevsky's immediate release is the Bellona Foundation.
The European Union, or EU, representatives, who are part of the EU’s Minsk diplomatic mission, are visiting regions of Gomel and Mogilev — the Belarusian districts most severely contaminated by the 1986 Chernobyl explosion — from May 21 to 23, Bandazhevsky, the founder and chancellor of the Gomel State Medical Institute published in 1999 the results of years worth of research on the clinical consequences of cesium-137 — one of the most radioactive elements released by the disaster — impacts on human organism. His results showed that it leads to heart disease, cataract, early ageing and other maladies.
But his research jeopardized the Belarusian authorities’ intention to recommence farming lands contaminated by Chernobyl. Just before his arrest in 1999, Bandazhevsky had harshly criticized official researches, sponsored by the Belarusian government, which allocated only 1bn roubles for "scientifically and practically useful research," and said the remaining scientific budget of 17bn was wasted. Bandazhevsky also argued that Belarus was engaged in a hidden scam of selling and exporting radioactive vegetables along with non-contaminated products — a practice he viewed as sheer folly.
Bandazhevsky and his wife Galina examined cardiograms of children and carried out series of autopsies in the forensic morgue in Gomel. The scientific results proved that, after the Chernobyl accident, cardiovascular system sickness rate increased by four times.
Prior to Bandazhevsky studies, increases of cesium-137 concentrations from 10 to 30 times in vital human organs were considered insignificant. He proved, however, that such concentrations lead to pathological abnormalities. For instance, a pathology can be seen when cesium is accumulated in a human organism at the rate of only 30-50 Bq/kg. Autopsies of one-year-old children in Gomel showed high levels of radiocesium in their organs — up to 6000 Bq/kg, which indicates a severe radioactive toxic syndrome, both among foetuses and newborn babies.
don’t work, and, to say precisely, the result is vice versa. Lukashenka is glad that he can make the whole world angry and make them ask his help."
In Yablokov’s opinion, it is possible to influence Belarusian authorities through the apparat of the Union of Russia and Belarus, an agreement creating, in effect, one country, signed by the presidents of both countries in 1999.
"But the bureaucrats won’t react to non-governmental organizations, we need to organize an appeal from the Russian Academy of Sciences", Yablokov confesses.
A pattern of harassment
"Lukashenka’s regime, with whom Russia united, isn’t afraid of the international public opinion. That is a dictatorship, coarsely infringing upon the liberty of information", the famed Russian environmentalist Alexander Nikitin said.
A former submarine officer and nuclear safety inspector, Nikitin was arrested in 1996 and charged with high treason for his contributions to a Bellona report on the abysmal nuclear safety record within the Russian Northern Fleet. After 11 months in jail and four years firing the courts, he was fully acquitted in 2000.
Today Nikitin is still engaged in environmental and human rights issues in Russia. He is the head of the St. Petersburg-based organisation the Environmental Rights Centre Bellona, or ERC, representing Bellona Foundation in Russia. The organisation is engaged in environmental and nuclear safety projects, as well as in several human rights cases, most notably the case of Grigory Pasko, a Russian journalist who was convicted to four years for treason on charges similar to those Nikitin was charged with. The bulk of Pasko’s work concerned illegal nuclear waste dumping practices by Russia’s Pacific Nuclear Submarine Fleet.
Pasko was released on parole in January 2003 and currently works as editor-in-chief of the "Ecology and Rights" magazine published by ERC Bellona.
In the cases of Nikitin, Pasko and Bandazhevsky, courts flagrantly violated the rights of the accused. The Nikitin and Pasko cases await the consideration of such violations at the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg. Belarus isn’t a member of the European Council, and the objectivity of the Belarusian Military Court in the Bandazhevsky case will be considered by the UN Human Rights Committee. The Bellona Foundation has no doubts about what the results will be. Bellona believes that the Strasbourg Court and UN Human Rights Committee will characterize these violations for what they are.
The Belarusian President’s specific competence
One factor arousing anxiety, however, is that Bandazhevsky is waiting for the UN Committee’s decision in prison. Yesterday Bellona Web interviewed president Lukashenka’s press secretary Natalya Petkevich by telephone.
When asked, does Lukashenka read letters demanding release of the scientist and whether he is going to heed the international request, Mrs Petkevich answered: "That is not the president’s business! About Bandazhevsky address the law enforcement bodies." When questioned further about whether granting amnesty or pardon lies within the president’s competence, Petkevich said that "yes, it is in president’s competence. But that’s not the business of our president."