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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Annals of Neo-Soviet Barbarism: Now, Russia Physically Attacks Environmentalists

The Moscow Times reports:

Masked attackers armed with metal rods and baseball bats raided a camp of environmental protesters near an east Siberian uranium enrichment plant over the weekend, beating one person to death and injuring several others.

The attack appeared to be linked to simmering hostilities between local nationalist and anti-fascist groups. But it is bound to stoke worries about a resurgence of nationalist groups, as well as the work of nongovernmental organizations critical of the government.

About 15 darkly dressed attackers stormed the camp of 25 activists in a woodland clearing near the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex at about 5 a.m. Saturday, said one of activists who was on night patrol at the time. "I tried to wake everybody up so we could start a coordinated defense," said the activist, Maxim, 21, who refused to give his last name because he said police had asked the activists not to speak to the media.

Shouting nationalist slogans, the attackers knocked down tents and dragged out activists before beating them with metal rods, baseball bats and sticks, Maxim said, speaking on a friend's cell phone because the attackers stole his. One activist, Ilya Borodayenko, 26, died of severe head injuries in a hospital a few hours later. "I saw blood coming out of his mouth and ears," Maxim said. "The doctors told me he had a punctured lung as well as a cracked skull." He said another activist -- whom he only identified as Marina, 25 -- suffered multiple fractures to her right arm after being beaten on the face and arms. He sent a reporter several photographs of the woman being treated by a white-coated doctor at the camp shortly after the attack. Blood is seen glistening through the woman's matted hair, and her right arm is bound in a makeshift splint. "In between the blows, they shouted, 'Anti-Antifa!' and, 'Do you like being in Antifa now?'" Maxim said.

Several of the activists are also members of a vocal anti-fascist group called Antifa, and this probably motivated Saturday's attack, Maxim said. The activists represented three environmental organizations, including Defending the Rainbow and Autonomous Action. Two activists remained hospitalized in stable condition Sunday, Maxim said. Eight suspects, aged 18 to 22, were in custody Sunday, Interior Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin said. He suggested that the motive for the attack might have been theft, saying one of the suspects had been detained carrying a backpack with several cell phones. The suspects will be charged with hooliganism and intentional grievous bodily harm resulting in death, Gribakin said. A hooliganism conviction carries a maximum punishment of seven years in prison, while the second, more serious charge has a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. Gribakin promised to bring all the attackers to justice. "Work will not stop even for one minute," he said, Interfax reported.

Irkutsk regional police, however, are reluctant to classify the attack as a nationalist-related crime, the activists said. "The local police want to present the attack as ordinary hooliganism. They very grudgingly wrote down that we told them the attackers shouted slogans against anti-fascists," said Igor Kozlov, a member of Autonomous Action, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. "Many people flatly deny the existence of neo-Nazis in their city," Kozlov said. Authorities were keeping an eye on the camp before the attack, and several police officers stopped by the day before the attack to search the tents, Maxim said. Police suspected that one or more of the activists was involved in spraying graffiti on municipal buildings calling for a halt to nuclear waste processing, he said. Several members of the camp refused to present their documents because police failed to produce a search warrant, Maxim said. No one was charged and the police left, he said.

Repeated calls to local police and the hospital went unanswered Sunday.

Mikhail Kreindlin, head of Greenpeace in Russia, and Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, said it was too early to start pointing fingers in Saturday's attack. But Brod said authorities in the past have hired local criminal groups to silence dissent and write it off as hooliganism. Brod said he had asked associates in Irkutsk to make sure the police investigation is conducted properly and is not allowed to fizzle out.

Despite the attack, the activists were hoping to renew their protest with a new camp Thursday. They accuse authorities of illegally making money at the Angarsk Electrolysis Chemical Complex by allowing foreign companies to send spent fuel there for reprocessing. In addition to reprocessing, the plant has been enriching uranium for the past 50 years for use in nuclear power plants. Officials deny importing spent fuel, even though a law that came into force in 2001 allows it. The plant is right outside Angarsk, a city of 260,000 located 100 kilometers west of the southern tip of Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake and a symbol of Russia's environmental heritage.

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