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The Moscow Times, April 26, 2002

Police Cart Away Nuclear Protesters

By Robin Munro

Police, Kremlin security officers and plainclothes officers forcefully broke up a peaceful demonstration against nuclear waste imports on Red Square on Thursday, cuffing young protesters in the face before hauling them by their collars to waiting police cars and roughly slamming them in.

Twenty-four activists and about half a dozen journalists, including camera crews from Reuters and the new Ekho television company, were detained by police at the demonstration, held on the eve of the 16th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster.

Police yanked the film from the cameras and video cameras of many of those who photographed the event; journalists loudly complained that their equipment had been damaged.

The journalists were released almost immediately, while the protesters were still being held late Thursday evening. The protesters were supposed to appear in court Friday on charges of participating in an unauthorized meeting, Interfax reported. "Everything went well because we managed to draw attention to our concerns about importing nuclear waste," said Alisa Nikulina, a member of the Ecodefense group and one of the organizers of the demonstration. "We brought it t othe Kremlin and they wouldn't let it in."

The protest was against a law that President Vladimir Putin signed in July allowing spent nuclear fuel to be imported for reprocessing.

Environmentalists say Russia has enough problems with its own nuclear waste that it can ill deal with any other countries' waste.

Supporters of the law say the imports could earn the country $20 billion over 10 years. The demonstration started when 30 or so protesters in their late teens and early twenties who had been mingling with tourists on Red Square converged in front of Spassky Gate and donned white overalls, resembling radiation suits and bearing signs saying "OYaT," the Russian acronym for spent nuclear fuel.

They dropped onto the ground in front of a low chain some 25 meters from the gate that leads into the Kremlin and began to crawl slowly and silently forward. Other protesters distributed leaflets.

Nadezhda Kutepova, from the Planet of Hopes organization in the Chelyabinsk region, said before she was detained that the Chernobyl disaster should be a warning to those who handle nuclear materials.

An explosion and fire at Ukraine's Chernobyl nuclear power plant on April 26, 1986, sent radiation across Europe and contaminated large parts of the Soviet Union. The disaster has led to thousands of deaths, especially among those who took part in the cleanup, and 7 million people in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine are estimated to suffer physical or psychological effects of radiation related to the Chernobyl catastrophe. A series of commemorations and protests are planned across the nation Friday.

Thursday's protest at first had an element of farce to it, with a group of astonished American tourists stopping to take snapshots.

The lone policeman in front of the gate blocked individual protesters with his legs and turned some back, but the group kept creeping forward. One reached within five meters of the gate.

Then a senior police officer and a half dozen other policemen arrived in cars. A dozen members of the Federal Guard Service emerged from the Kremlin with a plainclothesman bearing a truncheon.

The officers began driving the young people back, and they quickly retreated behind the chain. One flashed a "V" for victory.

But this was not enough for the officers, and they began cuffing people and throwing them to the ground. They dragged the protesters over the cobblestones and shoved them into cars.

One officer referred to the protesters as hooligans and asked them why they could not have protested somewhere else.

Having snuffed the protest, the law enforcement officers began rounding up those who had taken photographs or filmed the scuffle, demanding to see IDs and pulling film from cameras.

"It's a breach of freedom of speech," said Sergei Alexashkin, 20, a law student and member of Molodyozhnoye Pravozashchitnoye Dvizheniye, or Young Civil Rights Movement, who had traveled about 200 kilometers from the city of Tula for the event. "It was a protest addressed to the president," he added.

Ecodefense's Nikulina also said the protest was aimed at the president. "These imports are opposed by 90 percent of the population," she said. "It is understandable that the Nuclear Power Ministry supports the imports, but in the face of public opposition the government, including the president, should not." President Vladimir Putin once said in an interview to the Toronto Globe and Mail and Canadian television that he harbors a secret admiration for environmental activists and was thinking of joining their ranks after he quits the Kremlin. "To be honest," he said, "I've always admired people who devote their lives to environmental problems. I've watched with astonishment as a group of people on a little boat tries to oppose a huge military or industrial ship. I must say this inspires only sympathy."

However, his admiration was not shared by the officers who dealt with the protesters Thursday.

The police could not be immediately reached for comment, but a spokeswoman for the Federal Guard Service, or FSO, said the demonstration had been properly broken up. "In this case the law was correctly observed," said the spokeswoman, who asked not to be identified. "The territory of the Kremlin and Red Square is a special zone and photos can only be taken there with permission."

Asked why tourists were allowed to take photos freely on Red Square, she said they were not professionals and "there is a big difference."

She denied that the officers' actions amounted to censorship.

"There are rules on how you should behave on the Kremlin proper, and these rules are well known to all journalists. You need to get permission to take photos," she said, adding that most people who apply get permission.

Oleg Panfilov of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the officers had no right to destroy the journalists' film.

"According to the media law, journalists have complete freedom to do their work covering meetings and demonstrations, even if the protest is an illegal one. No one should stop them from doing their work," he said.

"Unfortunately, the authorities are using force more and more against journalists. In my opinion, the Russian authorities have completely lost their sense of respect toward journalists," he said.

Nikulina said organizers did not even consider applying for a permit "because they wouldn't have given it to us." "We consider that the only forms of protest that the authorities allow are those that don't trouble them," she said.

She said the Yabloko party had wanted to hold a public meeting on nuclear waste imports Friday and had been refused a permit.

See also:

the original at

YABLOKO against Nulcear Waste Imports

Land Reform

The Moscow Times, April 26, 2002

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