Police raided the office of Russian environmental Baikal Environmental Wave. Last Thursday, Six officers from the local Department of Internal Affairs Consumer Affairs and Counter-Extremism units arrived to shut down the office, without a warrant authorizing a search, citing suspicion that the organization was using pirated software and violating fire safety regulations. Although the requisite software licenses were presented to officials for inspection, they refused to read the documents.
Instead, the policemen proceeded to confiscate staff computers and internal documents. When staff blocked the door to prevent the officers from removing the computers without the applicable warrants, the environmental advocates were escorted to the prosecutor's office under charges of obstructing justice.
The fact is reported by Pacific Environment, an environmental organization based in San Francisco, since the Baikal Environmental Wave website has been shut 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.
Baikal Environmental Wave co-director Marina Rikhvanova, a 2008 Goldman Environmental Prize winner, was not in the office when the police arrived and was thus able to notify the press on her way to answer questions. "It is clear that the stated reason for investigating Baikal Environmental Wave was just an excuse - Marina Rikhvanova said to Pacific Environment - 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".
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. In addition to negotiations with local officials and public outreach campaigns, Baikal Environmental Wave organizes large public rallies to protest threats to the lake.
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. As of yesterday, the mill has not taken any measures to eliminate the problem.