Staunton, August 3 –– Moscow has branded the only environmental action group in Ozersk “a foreign agent” as a step toward forcing the closure of the only such group working to defend the rights of those who continue to suffer as a result of two major nuclear accidents there in Soviet times.
Nadezhda Kutepova, the head of the Planet of Hope group, says that official pressure against his activities is now more intense than it has been at any time over the last 15 years, but she tells the Russian-language service of Radio France Internationale she intends to continue the fight.
On July 28, a city court confirmed the May decision of the court of first instance that Planet of Hope must register as a foreign agent and pay a fine of 300,000 rubles (US $5,000) if it does not. Kutepova says her group will appeal because she does not consider her work political and therefore does not believe it can be classified as that of “a foreign agent.”
Kutepova adds that if her appeals in the Russian court system are unsuccessful, the group will be liquidated as has happened with other groups. But regardless of whether that happens or not, she says, if the group’s appeal fails, it will appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to seek redress.
The activist says that in her opinion, “the regional authorities have exploited the situation regarding ‘foreign agents’ in order to end the activity of our organization which is directed at helping people living in the zone of radioactive contamination and who are victims of the radiation accidents which took place in the Mayak plant in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Unfortunately, she continues, many parts of the region are still contaminated, and many people are getting sick as a result. But the authorities do not want to recognize their claims or pay compensation and consequently throw up all kinds of roadblocks in order to avoid having to do so, including demands for a genetic test beyond the means of most victims.
Planet of Hope was created in 1999 and registered the following year, the activist says. There have been three waves of repression against it, in 2004, 2008-2009, and now, in 2015. The latest is “the strongest” yet. Many people do not support this action, including the Chelyabinsk ombudsman for human rights, but they haven’t been able to block other officials from acting.
Ozersk is a small city and a closed one still. People know each other, and some support her group while others see what is being done to it as pointing to a new era of political repressions, Kutepova says. Those who have been helped “are sincerely sympathetic,” she says. And they are asking “how will we live and who will defend us” if you are closed down?
Others who see the moves against Planet of Hope are more hostile as they calculate against whom they might move next. “Now I understand what 1937 [the high point of Stalin’s Great Terror] was like,” the human rights and environmental defense activist says.