Russian Environmental Journalists Get the Look
Air Date: Week of February 12, 1999
In the past three years, two Russian journalists have been arrested and charged with high treason for reporting on nuclear waste dumping by Russia’s navy fleets. Host Laura Knoy talks with Natalya Shulyakovskaya (shool-yah-kove-SKY-yah), of the Moscow Times, about the impact these trials might be having on environmentalism in the former Soviet Union.
KNOY: This is Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy, sitting in for Steve Curwood. In Russia, a journalist named Grigory Pasko sits in jail awaiting trial on charges of treason. His crime? Producing a television documentary about the dumping of radioactive waste into the Sea of Japan by Russia's Pacific Fleet. Pasko claims he was exposing unsafe nuclear waste disposal. But the FSB, one of the successors to the KGB, says he revealed critical secret military information. Pasko has been in prison for 14 months, but his trial, which was supposed to begin last week, has been delayed indefinitely. Joining us now to talk about the case is Natalya Shulyakovskaya. She covers the environment for the Moscow Times. Natalya, why did the security service consider Pasko's work so dangerous?
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: Well, Pasko basically was accused of passing documents that had nothing to do with ecology or the Far East region to the Japanese. But he denies that any information was secret. He says that all the information he collected was collected from public documents, and from approval of his naval command.
KNOY: There are some tricky rules in Russia about what's classified, what's public record, and what is not.
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: Yeah, there is. And the law on state secrets has been expanded by a presidential decree in October of 1997, and now it does include nuclear installation with defense significance. But the law is fairly broad, so basically FSB has the freedom to decide what is a nuclear installation with defense significance, and what is not.
KNOY: Now, Mr. Pasko is not the first journalist to be charged with treason for this type of reporting. Correct?
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: Yes. Alexander Nikitin, a military, well, Navy captain who retired and lived in St. Petersburg was working for Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian-based environmental group. And he compiled parts of the report that Bellona Foundation put together on the abuse, environmental abuse, done by the Northern Fleet on the far north of Russia. It's actually, it's also, they documented dumping of nuclear waste into the seas, the northern Russian seas.
KNOY: Natalya, what sort of effect do you think these 2 cases, the cases of Mr. Pasko and Mr. Nikitin, will have on the overall environmental movement in Russia?
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: Well, people who now participate in environmental movement in Russia, there are few people, and they're real enthusiasts. But what it will do, actually, it will create a much harder, harsh environment for them to collect necessary hard data, hard information, to fight environmental abuse. This sends a message not only to environmentalists, but to bureaucrats who are responsible for releasing environmental information, that they can deny it. And more, that if they release any of the information, FSB could be on their case, too. And in fact, during our reporting on Pasko's case, we interviewed a colonel who represents FSB, a spokesman for FSB, who said directly that it is a well-known fact that environmental activism is often used as a cover for agents.
KNOY: So what's next for Mr. Pasko, Natalya?
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: In Russia, the Russian legal system allows the cases to be sent back for additional investigation. In fact, that's what's happening in Nikitin's case. And there is no real legal limit on how long it could be dragged on for. And as far as I can see, there is very little political will, probably, within the court system, to stop this.
KNOY: Natalya Shulyakovskaya covers the environment for the Moscow Times, the capitol's main English-language newspaper. Natalya, thanks for talking with us.
SHULYAKOVSKAYA: Thank you.
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