One of the few remaining countries that claims the nuclear renaissance is real is Russia.

The renaissance is not so real at home, where the number of planned nuclear power stations always looks impressive, but actual construction slows down. So, Russia looks to the outside world to push new reactors.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev travelled to Belarus to sign a general contract for the construction and operation of the Astravetz nuclear power plant. Several journalists and environmentalists who are critical of the plan wanted to give him a petition, asking him to withhold his signature. Did he meet them with a smile? Small chance.

Even before they were on their way to the Russian Embassy in Minsk to deliver the petition, Russian nuclear physicist and journalist Andrey Ozharovsky and his Belarussian colleague and organiser of the petition Tatjana Novikova were arrested. Both were convicted that same day, Ozharovsky was given 10 days in jail and Novikova five days. They were accused of "hooliganism."

The only witnesses called were the police people who arrested them. They said Ozharovsky and Novikova had screamed foul language that was audible further than 50 meters away.

Novikova managed to send an text message that she was arrested to Irina Sukhy, the head of the local environmental centre EcoDom. Sukhy immediately set out to deliver the petition to the Russian Embassy. Human rights watch Michael Matskevich of the Center of Legal Transformation went on his way to the police station where Novikova and Ozharovsky were held.

As soon as Sukhy and Matskevich were in the streets, they were also arrested. A few hours later, Sukhy was fined about €150 ─ more than a month's wage in Belarus ─ and Matskevich was given three days in jail. Both for "hooliganism" again.

One really wonders what Belarussian police do that makes people use loud and foul language? Especially such fundamentally peaceful and non-violent people as Irina, Andrey, Tatjana and Michael. I happen to know the first three personally, and I really cannot imagine them even being able to scream loud enough of their own free will.

Belarus has never signed the European Convention on Human Rights, but the country is a member of the United Nations and with that has recognised the UN Human Rights Charter that guarantees freedom of speech.

Listening to critical voices on nuclear energy is something that can help a government  prevent a nuclear accident like Chernobyl or Fukushima. Chernobyl should have taught Belarussians well enough what the effects of a nuclear accident can be: a large part of the country was heavily contaminated and a small part is still uninhabitable. Novikova and Sukhy experienced this all first hand. Fukushima has shown that not listening to warnings is part of the problem.

Critical voices on nuclear energy should be carefully listened to: especially by Russian Prime Minister Medvedev and Belarussian president Alexander Lukashenko. Critics should not be jailed  ─ a profound miscarriage of justice. Even before construction has started, Belarus is proving it has become a nuclear state or "Atomstaat" in the sense that philosopher Robert Jungk warned for 40 years ago.

FREE the Minsk Three!

Update: 23/07/12: Michael Matskevich was released on Saturday and Tatjana Novikova was released this morning. Andrey Ozharovsky is not expected to be released until next week. 

Update 30/07/12: Andrey Ozharovsky was freed at noon on Saturday 28 July. He was expelled to Russia. He has been banned from entering Belarus for ten years.