19 April 2010, Johannesburg. CIVICUS has received information from local sources that the offices of Socio-Ecological Union (SEU) in Samara, Russia, have been raided by the police in connection with alleged criminal charges of extremism against Mr. Sergey Simak the Co-Chair of the Organization,.
On the 13th of April, staff from the regional branches of the Department for Economic Crimes and the Center for the Combat of Extremism raided the SEU offices and seized Mr. Simak's computer and documents, which are alleged to have been used for criminal purposes.
According to local reports, a source in the regional Police Department stated that the case was initiated on 12 April, the same day that activists from Samara, and 44 other cities in Russia, held protests over the felling of virgin Mediterranean pistachio-juniper forests, to make space for a health and sports complex. Furthermore, ecologists and activists from Samara have been actively involved in protesting the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill, which reopened with the support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and has grave ecological consequences for Lake Baikal and surrounding region.
CIVICUS is deeply concerned that attacks on the environmental movement in Russia are becoming common and systematic. A member of SEU has expressed fears to CIVICUS that, as SEU is currently headquartered out of Samara, the whole organization may be jeopardized by this latest attack. CIVICUS urges President Medvedev to protect freedoms of association and expression in the country, and ensure that peaceful environmentalism is not regarded as extremism in Russia.
Environmental groups in Russia are repeatedly stripped of their fundamental right to freedom of expression when the issues are political or economic in nature. In January 2010, police raided NGO Baikal Environmental Wave, a member of the SEU Network, and confiscated computers in response to the NGO's advocacy surrounding the Baikal Pulp and Paper Mill. Further, in Turkmenistan, the authorities arrested Mr. Andrey Zatoka under trumped up charges, a renowned ecologist, activist and member of SEU.
The Socio-Ecological Union remains to be the oldest, largest, and one of the most respected NGOs in the post-Soviet region. The compromise of the operations and existence of this organization would have grave consequences not only for the region's rich and diverse ecology, but also for the civil society in Eurasia as a whole.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. In 2009, CSW tracked threats in 75 countries across the globe.
For more information, please contact:
Devendra Tak, Media and Communications Manager, CIVICUS
Sonia Zilberman, Civil Society Watch Programme, CIVICUS
Tel: +27 -11- 8335959