Criminal Acts

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Hotline, Summer 2000

Stop right there! For just a moment, pause in your reading of this newsletter to reflect on the “crime” you have just committed. In quite a few countries, possession of a newsletter like this one could get you into a whole lot of trouble. And the environmental activists who produce such newsletters literally put their lives on the line – risking persecution, imprisonment, and torture.

When we consider the obstacles faced by our counterparts in other countries, we are reminded of the importance of the political rights we enjoy – and inspired to persevere in our own efforts. Here are summaries of two current cases.

Alexander Nikitin

Nikitin, a retired Russian naval officer working for a Norwegian environmental group, collected information from public sources and published a groundbreaking report on radioactive contamination in the Arctic. He explained the dangers associated with Russia’s nuclear-powered vessels and described the military’s mishandling of spent nuclear fuel. Nikitin was arrested and charged with treason. His report became the first banned book in post-Soviet Russia.

For four years, the FSB (successor to the KGB) has harassed Nikitin through the legal system, putting him through numerous court appearances, dropping and re-filing charges against him. Nikitin spent the first of those years in prison. After international pressure secured his release, he was confined to the city of St. Petersburg.

This spring, Russia’s highest court threw out all the charges against Nikitin, and he was able to travel to the United States to accept awards from Sierra Club and the Goldman Foundation. However, his freedom was short-lived. Russian prosecutors began another court proceeding, and he was forced to rush home and again confront his accusers. The persecution is of Nikitin is likely to continue. He can expect no relief from the administration of President Vladimir Putin, an FSB alumnus who recently abolished the country’s environmental agency. Nikitin is the most prominent figure within Russia’s embattled environmental community, and he has vowed to continue his work.

Rodolfo Montiel and Teodoro Cabrera

In May 1999, Montiel and Cabrera were organizing grassroots opposition to a massive logging operation initiated by Boise Cascade. Mexican soldiers arrested the two men, and they were beaten and tortured. More than a year later, representatives from the Danish section of Physicians for Human Rights examined the men and found clear indications of torture. Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, who represents the two men, has received a steady stream of death threats, and she has been assaulted twice.

Pressure from environmentalists and human rights activists prompted a Mexican government commission to investigate the case. On July 14, 2000, the commission’s report confirmed that the evidence against the two men consisted of confessions extracted under torture, and weapons and drug-related materials planted by the soldiers. Nevertheless, Montiel and Cabrera have not been released.

Keeping the Pressure On

It is no exaggeration to state that grassroots pressure from all over the world is the chief reason why heroic individuals like Nikitin, Montiel, Cabrera, and Ochoa are still alive. Now Amnesty International and Sierra Club, with financial support from the Goldman Foundation, are working together on a campaign to protect the rights of environmental activists.

Background information on the Just Earth! campaign, and details on other cases, can be found at two web sites ( and The local affiliates of Amnesty International (412-361-3022) and Sierra Club (412-561-0203) are participating in the campaign. We urge you to give them a call.

by John Warren, GASP Board Member