In July and August 2010, as forest fires blazed all across Russia, the French construction company Vinci and its Russian partners were engaged in destroying a forest near the Moscow suburb of Khimki. The town administration backed their actions using a combination of lawlessness and direct violence: forest defenders were attacked both by local police and extreme right-wing thugs. The coordinated actions of grassroots activists have put a temporary halt to construction of a planned Moscow-Petersburg toll highway through the Khimki Forest. However, two active defenders of the forest, antifascists Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, remain in police custody on fabricated charges. In essence, they have been taken hostage by local authorities and police officials. If they are tried and convicted they could face seven years in prison. Meanwhile, police and other law enforcement agencies continue their hunt against other activists, especially those with connections to the antifascist movement.
The next pre-trial detention hearing for the two young men is scheduled for late September. Join our International Days of Action –September 17–20, 2010 – to demand their release. Our main slogans are Freedom for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov! and End the Persecution of Forest Defenders and Antifascists! For more details, go to our web site.
The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages calls on people from around the world to fax messages of protest to the Khimki municipal court and Russian law enforcement agencies on September 20, 2010. You can find the details here.
What You Can Do Right Now
1. Repost our appeal and your own opinion about the case on your web site or blog. Forward these texts to friends, comrades, and anyone else you think might want to participate in this solidarity campaign.
2. Write e-mails to international organizations, Russian government officials and the development companies involved in the toll highway project: they all either are in a position to help secure release of the Khimki hostages or bear indirect responsibility for their continued imprisonment. Please take twenty minutes right now to send your letters and petitions to the organizations listed here, as well as to inform your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Your help might prove decisive in saving the Khimki Forest and its defenders.
3. If you are prepared to help the persecuted activists in other ways or would like to share advice on how to deal with European and Russian official organizations and companies, please write to us at:
How Things Are Done in Khimki
Since the launch of the project to build a toll highway through the Khimki Forest, the Khimki town administration has become infamous for its gangster-like methods of “working” with local residents. Over the past three years, forest defenders have suffered numerous arrests and other forms of harassment by local police, as well as physical attacks carried out by “anonymous” hired thugs, including neo-Nazis. These actions by the Khimki administration and its partners are explained by the significant commercial interest they have in seeing that the highway construction project is completed. The planned highway would be the first such toll road in Russia, connecting the country’s two largest cities, Moscow and Petersburg. Along with the highway itself, the project includes plans for the construction of service and maintenance infrastructure, hotels, and residential buildings. The project thus promises enormous profits if realized, and that is why its backers are so keen to ignore both the law and the value of individual human lives. The lives and freedom of two forest defenders and antifascists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, are today threatened. They were arrested and falsely charged in revenge for a spontaneous demonstration that took place outside the Khimki town hall on July 28, 2010. Practically speaking, Alexei and Maxim have been taken hostage. At the same time, the Russian police and other law enforcement agencies have unleashed an unprecedented campaign of persecution directed against all antifascists. In violation of all legal norms, these activists have been forcibly detained and taken in for questioning by police, who have used physical and other methods of coercion to obtain the testimony they want to hear. The police have also conducted illegal searches of antifascists’ apartments. Under such circumstances there can be no doubt that the Khimki administration and the police intend to take new hostages who will join Gaskarov and Solopov behind bars.
The entire story of the Moscow-Petersburg toll road project has been punctuated by threats and dozens of physical attacks against activists, by the arsons of their homes and cars. Mikhail Beketov, editor of a Khimki opposition newspaper, was severely beaten and left for dead. He miraculously survived but he is now confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak. The editor of another local newspaper, Anatoly Yurov, has been beaten three times, suffering various injuries, including a brain concussion. The last time he was attacked, he suffered nine knife wounds. Newspaper layout editor Sergei Protazanov was cruelly beaten by persons unknown and died from his injuries the following day. After receiving numerous threats, local civil rights activist Albert Pchelintsev was kidnapped; his kidnappers shot him in the mouth with a pneumatic pistol and threw him out on the street. Albert survived this attacked, but his vocal chords were severely damaged. Pensioner and forest defender Alexander Parfyonov was attacked outside his home; his assailants wounded his arm. Two attempts have been made on the life of activist Vitaly Kapyttsev: an unknown assailant attempted to stab him to death outside Kapyttsev’s home at night, and later a bomb was thrown through his window. Activist Yevgenia Chirikova has been a constant target of crude harassment on the part of the police and attacks by unknown assailants: a person unknown tried to run her over with a car, and her husband has been physically attacked. There has been no official reaction to most of these attacks and in many cases the police have not even opened investigations. Local journalists and activists know of many other instances in which the Khimki administration has broken the law, as well as of its connections with the criminal world and neo-Nazis.
When developers began destroying the Khimki Forest in July 2010, environmentalists, antifascists, and political activists joined local residents in defending it. Although they did not have an official permit to clear-cut the forest, the loggers were guarded by regular police, private security guards, and neo-Nazis. On several occasions, groups of “persons unknown” wearing shirts and other clothing with neo-Nazi logos attacked forest defenders while police stood by. After these incidents, OMON riot police arrested the activists, not the hired thugs. The logging of the forest continued despite numerous petitions, pickets, and demonstrations. That is why antifascists and anarchists carried out a spontaneous demonstration in late June outside the Khimki town hall. During the demonstration, a few windows were broken, and demonstrators spray-painted the slogan “Save the Russian forest!” in two places on the wall. This action was widely reported and discussed in the press. None of the demonstrators was arrested during or immediately after the action in Khimki. But the following day two well-known social activists, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, spokesmen for the antifascist movement, were detained by police. Their arrests involved numerous violations of procedure and law: their arrest protocols were drawn up to report that they had been arrested “at the scene of the crime” and absurd “eyewitness” testimony was fabricated against them. Since then, the police have been forcing activists detained for questioning to testify against Gaskarov and Solopov. In the meantime, in the face of growing protests against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, the Russian authorities have conceded that the planned route for the toll highway needs to be reviewed. And yet Gaskarov and Solopov remain hostages of the highway, of the Khimki administration and police officials. They remain in prison as the police and prosecutors fabricate a case against them. If they are brought to trial and convicted as charged, they could face up to seven years in prison.
Find more information in the Prehistory of the Case of the Khimki Hostages
The Situation Is Critical
The safety and liberty of members of the antifascist movement are threatened. They very much need your solidarity. In late September, the Khimki court will again decide whether to keep Alexei and Maxim in prison or release them. We ask you to participate in our campaign to force the Russian authorities to release them and end its witch-hunt against forest defenders and antifascists.
On September 17–20, 2010, protest actions will take place outside of official Russian establishments all over the world. Rallies and other expressions of solidarity will also take place, as well as a media blitz to publicize the situation. September 20 is the proposed day for sending protest faxes to the Khimki court, the Khimki administration, and the Moscow Region prosecutor’s office. You can find details on planned actions, fax numbers, and other updated information on our web site: http://khimkibattle.org/.