Friday, February 05, 2010

Moscow Illegally Raids Enviro Group Opposing Reopening of Lake Baikal Pulp Mill

Suspiciously coinciding with their criticism of the reopening of the pulp mill on Siberia's Lake Baikal, police raided the office of Russian environmental watchdog group Baikal Environmental Wave without a warrant authorizing a search, and detained staff who were in the office on claims they were using pirated software and violating fire safety regulations. (Note: The website link to Baikal Wave may not work, because the Russian government has shut their website down.)

The raid came just as Baikalsk mayor Valery Pintaev and several workers from the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill spoke at a press conference in Moscow thanking Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for granting permission to reopen the polluting plant. The Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill discharged toxic waste water directly into the decades, but of widespread public outcry finally resulted in the October 2008 decision forcing the plant to shut its doors – until this month.

The organization is well-known for efforts to protect Lake Baikal – the deepest lake in the world and home to 20% of the world’s fresh water. Lake Baikal contains more fresh water than all of America's Great Lakes combined and provides habitat to more than 1,500 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world, including Lake Baikal's freshwater seal known locally as the nerpa.

In addition to negotiations with local officials and public outreach campaigns, Baikal Environmental Wave organizes large public rallies to protest threats to the lake.

“It is clear that the stated reason for investigating Baikal Environmental Wave was just an excuse,” Marina Rikhvanova, a 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, said by phone. “The real reason for taking our computers is to paralyze our organization and keep us from protesting the January 18 decision to reopen the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill.”

Employees of the Baikalsk Municipal Sewage Treatment Plant discovered two weeks ago that effluent from the Baikalsk mill, which has been testing its equipment since last month, is contaminating the town’s aquifers.

The organization is planning a February 13th demonstration to highlight community health concerns about pollution from the mill. Unfortunately for the Russian authorities, thanks to their illegal raid, there will be international attention on the pulp mill, the protest and the safety of the community and Baikal Environmental Wave. Heckuva job, Moscow!

And you can bet The Paper Planet will certainly be covering it.

Read more on the raid in the Moscow Times and from Pacific Environment.

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