In Russia, Indigenous land defenders face intimidation and exile | Al Jazeera

Pressure on communities comes as regional elites and big companies look to develop resource-rich Indigenous lands.

The police officers could have planted drugs in his backpack, Andrey Danilov says.

So he refused to show its contents to the officers who did not identify themselves or say why they approached him in late August 2021 in the Arctic town of Monchegorsk in northwestern Russia.

Drugs planted by police have become a routine part of a crackdown on liberal opposition, independent journalists and human rights activists.

But Danilov is none of the above.

He is a community leader of some 1,600 Saami living in Russia’s Murmansk region near Norway. They are a fraction of the Saami Indigenous nation that primarily lives in Arctic Scandinavia in the region which the Saami call Sapmi, a place also known as Lapland and advertised to tourists as Santa’s home.

Danilov says the search and subsequent detention were part of perennial official pressure on him, payback for leading a campaign against platinum and palladium mining on Saami lands, and for his victory in July in the Constitutional Court which ruled that unlicensed hunting is the birthright of any Indigenous person as part of their traditional way of life.

Russian law suggests that only Indigenous people living in the wilderness and not in urban centres can hunt without a licence, but Danilov, who lives in the town of Severstal, proved that hunting is part of his culture and beliefs.

Danilov was released hours after the news of his detention reached other activists and independent media. But he knows the pressure is far from over.

“Their main goal is to either push me to flee abroad or to force me to shut up,” Danilov, 51, who is head of the grassroots group the Saami Heritage and Development Foundation, tells Al Jazeera.

In early November, 116 human and Indigenous rights groups and dozens of individuals signed an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin detailing the persecution of Danilov and other Indigenous activists across Russia. So far, the Kremlin has not replied … Continue reading at AL Jazeera