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Russian Emergency Situations Ministry workers take water samples from waters by the village of Zavoiko on October 6.

Russian scientists say pollution has caused a mass die-off of marine life off the shoreline of the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula, with poisonous substances stored in a Soviet-era underground site suspected of being behind the disaster.

A team of divers found a "mass death" of sea life at a depth of 10 to 15 meters in Avacha Bay, Ivan Usatov of the Kronotsky Nature Reserve said on October 6, adding that "95 percent are dead."

"Some large fish, prawns, and crabs are left, but only a very small number," Usatov said during a meeting with Kamchatka Governor Vladimir Solodov.

In late September, locals reported that surfers experienced eye and skin irritation following contact with the water and posted videos showing dead seals, fish, and other marine creatures littering at least three beaches on the Avacha Bay.

Fears That Rocket Fuel Behind Marine Disaster In Russia's Far East
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WWF Russia said on October 6 that the pollutant appeared not to be oil, but a "highly toxic transparent substance that is highly soluble in water."

Scientists and investigators are working to detect the source of the pollution, with a focus on potential manmade causes.

Solodov said that experts took samples from a nearby site opened at the end of the 1970s to store chemicals in the ground.

"The most obvious answer where the source of the pollution could be is the Kozelsky poisonous chemical site," according to the governor, who said inspectors had found sections of barbed wire cut away and damage to a protective covering.

According to Greenpeace Russia campaign director Ivan Blokov, the unguarded site "just by official accounts contains around 108 tons of pesticides and poisonous chemicals."

The conservancy group has sent his own team to the scene to monitor the situation.

With reporting by AFP and Meduza
Nasrin Sotoudeh was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to a total of 38 1/2 years in prison and 148 lashes over her defense of political prisoners, including women protesting the compulsory hijab law.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has called on Iran to release human rights defenders, lawyers, and political prisoners held in the country's overcrowded prisons, amid worsening sanitary conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.

"Shortages of water, hygiene products, and disinfectant, insufficient protective equipment and testing kits, as well as a lack of isolation spaces and inadequate medical care have led to the spread of the virus among detainees and have reportedly resulted in a number of deaths," Bachelet said in a statement on October 6.

Iran is the country worst hit by COVID-19 in the Middle East, with nearly 480,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and over 27,000 deaths, according to the country's Health Ministry.

Some 120,000 inmates have been temporarily released to avoid further infections, according to official figures, though many have been required to return and people serving longer sentences for national security offenses were excluded from the release policy.

As a result, "most of those who may have been arbitrarily detained -- including human rights defenders, lawyers, dual and foreign nationals, conservationists, and others deprived of their liberty for expressing their views or exercising other rights -- have been placed at a heightened risk of contracting the virus," according to Bachelet.

Bachelet cited the case of prominent human rights lawyer and women's rights defender Nasrin Sotoudeh, whom she described as a "persistent and courageous advocate for the rights of her fellow Iranians."

The 57-year-old Sotoudeh was arrested in 2018 and later sentenced to a total of 38 1/2 years in prison and 148 lashes over her defense of political prisoners, including women protesting the compulsory hijab law.

Last month, she was transferred from a prison cell to a hospital north of Tehran following a hunger strike for better prison conditions and the release of political prisoners.

Days later, she was taken back to Tehran's Evin prison and ended her hunger strike after nearly 50 days due to deteriorating health, according to her husband.

"I am very concerned that Nasrin Sotoudeh's life is at risk," Bachelet said, reiterating her call for the authorities to "immediately release her and grant her the possibility of recuperating at home before undergoing the medical treatment of her choice."

"It is time for the government to cease violating her own rights because of the efforts she has made on behalf of others," Bachelet said.

The UN rights chief also expressed concern about the persistent "use of the criminal justice system as a tool to silence civil society" in Iran.

"Expressing dissent is not a crime. It is a fundamental right that should be protected and upheld," she said.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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