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#7 - JRL 7002
The Guardian (UK)
January 2, 2003
Russian spy fever embroils UK ecologist
Nick Paton Walsh in Moscow

A British ecologist working on the conservation of Lake Baikal, the world's deepest freshwater lake, has had documents and computers seized by the Russian internal security service, the FSB.

The service said a criminal investigation had been opened into how the group came to have secret maps of a uranium enrichment plant.

Jennifer Sutton May, 56, who has lived in Russia since 1974 and is one of the four leaders of the group Baikal Environmental Wave, was visited by local FSB officers in Irkutsk, Siberia, near Lake Baikal.

A number of computers and a list of foreign volunteers and contacts were also seized.

Ms Sutton's group joins a long list of environmental activists who have run foul of the Russian security services, which have been accused of "spy mania" for arresting and harassing people.

In December 2001 Grigory Pasko, a military journalist who revealed illegal nuclear waste dumping by the Navy, was sentenced to four years hard labour for treason.

The American Peace Corps was accused by the FSB of harbouring spies, and thrown out of Russia on Christmas Day.

"On 22nd November we had our first visit", Ms Sutton said. "The maps were to show where samples had been taken by geologists [around the plant] and the direction of the water." A little later her flat was burgled and her car stolen.

The group, funded by private western donors and the British Council, was surprised by the supposed "secret" nature of the maps, and at the timing of the investigation.

"Everybody knew we had them, as we had held a meeting in February where the results of the tests were discussed," Ms Sutton said.The tests showed that trees around the plant were contaminated.

"The FSB said these maps are only supposed to be given to state agencies. We got them from some geologists who initiated the testing. In the opinion of the geologists they were not secret as they did not have the exact geographical positions of the plants on them.

The FSB had made it clear that it was not interested in the group's work, she said, although a local FSB officer had suggested in local newspaper articles "that we were spies". The Irkutsk branch of the FSB was not available for comment. The articles have singled out the group's work late last year to highlight the environmental impact of an oil pipeline from the Siberian town of Angarsk to Daqing in China, Ms Sutton said. "An FSB officer was quoted as saying that we were undermining the regional economy and were finding environmental reasons why Russian oil could not flow to China.

"They also said our information about the environment around the uranium plant might cut back production in the area. This was designed to put the local population against us, because 'cutbacks' mean a loss of jobs. The headline of the article was 'Green spies undermine the economy of Angarsk'."

The computers were returned on December 19, she said. "We are not stopping our environmental work, as we are doing what the law encourages us to do" - meaning the citizen's right in Russian law to address the environmental impact of new projects.

"Apparently we had been treading on the toes of some pretty big commercial interests here."

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