Banned Book

Publish date: October 23, 1996

Written by: Thomas Nilsen

The Bellona report on the Russian Northern Fleet is the first book to be prohibited in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.

The prohibition constitutes the most severe setback to the freedom of speach in the new Russia to date. In addition, this decision violates the Russian constitution, which states that everybody is free to publish litterature which does not symphatize with nazism. The constitution emphasises in particular, that it is not legal to keep information on environmental conditions secret. The Bellona report is based on open sources in its entirety, describing the problems concerning nuclear wastes and submarines in the northern Russian region.

The question of the legality of the report within Russia has been shrouded with confusion. When Bellona presented the preliminary version at the G7+1 summit in Moscow on April 18, the customs officers at Moscow airport opened an auxhiliary gate, in order to pass the reports through customs at maximum speed. The FSB was present, but made no attempts at hindering the publication. 300 copies of the preliminary Russian version was distributed. On April 30, five copies of the report were confiscated at the home of Bellona associate Alexey Klimov in Severodvinsk, by the local FSB. The FSB agents referred to a decree issued by the FSB in St. Petersburg on April 24. On June 4, Bellona imported approx. 50 copies through customs at the airport in St. Petersburg, with the approval of the highest customs authorities. Those copies were fully declared and stamped as legally imported to St. Petersburg. On August 27, Bellona representatives imported 200 copies of the final version through the customs at Murmansk airport. Again, the reports were fully declared without incident. In the aftermath of the press conference held by Bellona in Murmansk on August 28, where the final report was made public, the Murmansk branch of FSB asked to receive five copies, without protesting on neither import to nor publication in Russia. On August 30, 150 further copies were imported to St. Petersburg and presented on another press conference.

Not until October 18 did customs authorities stop the report. On that day 1505 copies were confiscated by customs at St. Petersburg airport. On October 22 the report was officially declared as "prohibited litterature" in Russia. Customs authorities then established that all further attempts at importing copies of the report will lead to immediate confiscation. This is the first time since the prohibition on import of the Bible to the Soviet Union, that a book has been declared as illegal to import, own or distribute.

At present, it is not clear how the FSB will deal with the fact that more than 1500 copies of the report already have been imported to Russia and distributed to libraries, journalists, militarists, parliamentarians, organisations and citizens of Russia. And further, as you will see by these links, the report has been available through the web for quite some time.

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