Yabloko Activists Detained on Red Square

Yabloko activists protest on Red Square, June 5, 2010. Source: Leonid VarlamovA small protest on Moscow’s Red Square was broken up on Saturday when police detained four activists speaking out against the destruction of Siberia’s Lake Baikal, Ekho Moskvy reports.

The four activists, who hailed from the liberal Yabloko party, wore shirts reading “Save Baikal from the TsBK,” referring to the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill, which environmentalists say is killing the world’s largest freshwater lake.

The small group unfurled a wordless banner picturing the lake in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square, and was surrounded by police after taking only a few steps. After the police succeeded in taking away the banner, the activists argued that they had every right to hold their protest and demanded to speak to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev. Ten minutes later, however, all four had been detained and brought away for processing at a police station.

Russian federal legislation prohibits rallies or protests from being held without receiving government sanction, which rights activists say is a violation of the country’s constitution. In addition to that, it is entirely forbidden to hold any kind of gathering, protest, or march on Red Square without the express permission of the president himself.

Despite grave environmental concerns, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin signed a decree in mid-January to change the environmental laws previously prohibiting waste from being dumped into Lake Baikal to allow the Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill to resume suspended operations. Saturday was the final day to sign a petition calling on UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova to defend the lake, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While supporters of the mill say that it will bring much-needed jobs to the region, critics insist that not only does the decree violate Russian law, but it also “obstructs the environment-safe economic development of the town of Baikalsk and the whole Baikal region.”

Regional police have taken startling measures to suppress outrage about the mill, including by bringing armored vehicles and least one tank to a large protest and by seizing computers from environmental activists.

More photographs from the protest can be found on Ekho Moskvy’s website by clicking here.