Bellona demands Belarusian authorities release arrested environmental activist Ozharovsky

Ozharovsky was among a group of four environmental and civil activists who on July 18 intended to pass an open statement protesting the construction of the Belarusian Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) to the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Minsk.

Russian and Belarusian officials last Wednesday signed a general contract on the joint project that envisions Russia’s State Nuclear Corporation Rosatom building a 1,200-megawatt nuclear power plant to an as-yet untested Russian design in the Belarusian town of Ostrovets in Grodno Region.

The signing took place as part of Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Minsk. 

Ozharovsky was arrested along with his Belarusian colleagues, Belarusian Anti-Nuclear Campaign coordinator Tatiana Novikova, Irina Sukhiy of the environmental group Ekodom (Ecohome), and human rights activist Mikhail Matskevich of the Legal Transformation Center.

On the morning of July 18, Ekodom’s Sukhiy received information that Ozharovsky and Novikova had been detained and were held in a district police precinct in Minsk – a location where the activists, however, were not found upon inquiry. No details of the arrest or the environmentalists’ actual location were available until late evening.

Later that same day, Sukhiy herself and Matskevich were also detained as they were leaving the offices of the ecological movement Green Network on their way to the Russian embassy in Minsk.

Ozharovsky is reported to have been arrested on a street in Minsk on a disorderly conduct charge – using profane language in a public place – and taken to a local court the same day, where he was given a ten-day administrative arrest sentence to be served in a detention facility for misdemeanor offenders.

“We believe the charges against Andrei Ozharovsky to be absurd, and we will demand that Belarusian authorities release the environmentalist,” said Nikolai Rybakov, executive director of the St. Petersburg-based Environmental Rights Center Bellona. 

On learning of Ozharovsky’s arrest, Bellona contacted Russian embassy officials in Belarus with a request to make inquiries on Ozharovsky’s behalf and render consular assistance. An official request was also later sent by Bellona to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asking to take the situation under the ministry’s control.  

The Russian foreign ministry has since been cited in media reports as saying its representatives made assistance quickly available to Ozharovsky on the day of arrest, and an embassy official was present in court.

Ozharovsky is believed to have been arrested for his intent to pass copies of an open statement criticizing the Ostrovets nuclear power plant project – an address signed by Ekodom, representatives of the Belarusian Green party, and members of the Belarusian NPP Public Environmental Impact Assessment Commission – to officials in the Russian and Belarusian governments, as well as the Belarusian Ministry of Energy.

The Ostrovets project has been under a heavy barrage of criticism and anti-nuclear protest activities both in Belarus and neighboring countries even as Minsk continues to push for its implementation despite vigorous public opposition and objections from neighboring nations such as Lithuania.

Official Minsk, though having faced accusations of being non-compliant with international conventions in its nuclear pursuits, is firmly set in an ambition to have a first nuclear power plant in a country that took the brunt of the radioactive fallout from the 1986 disaster at Ukraine’s Chernobyl.

Environmentalists call for Belarus to remain a non-nuclear nation as they decry the decision to go ahead with a project that enjoys no support among experts or the public.

“Belarusian NPP, just as any other nuclear power plant, is a threat to this and future generations: There is no 100 percent guarantee that a repeat catastrophe of Chernobyl or Fukushima scale will not occur, or that radionuclide discharges sanctioned as part of standard NPP operation will not cause a rise in cancer incidence in the plant’s vicinity,” the statement says in part. 

Environmentalists also point out that the project is economically untenable as it undermines Belarus’s energy security, making Belarus dependent on Russia’s fuel deliveries and technological expertise.

Before being arrested, the activists managed to send the text to the independent news and political coverage website Belorussky Partizan (Belarusian Partisan).

Maria Kaminskaya