Below, we have posted a translation of some excerpts from a excellent article on the Russian news and commentary website Chastnyi Korrespondent (“Private Correspondent”), which describes in detail the now-notorious August 4 Moscow press conference after whose conclusion, Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, was kidnapped by Moscow Region police, allegedly because she had failed to respond to a summons to report for question in connection with the July 28 attack on the Khimki town hall. (Chirikova has denied that she received any summons.) The remarks made at the press conference by Chirikova, Institute for Collective Action director Carine Clément, lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin (who is coordinating the defense of Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, the two young Moscow antifascists who on August 6 were formally charged with disorderly conduct and conspiracy to commit disorderly conduct in a group, which could send them to prison for seven years), and Gaskarov’s mother, Elena, shed a great deal of light on this tangled case and underscore the need for activists both in Russia and abroad to show their solidarity with both the forest defenders and the unjustly accused antifascists.
This is the point made by Tord Björk in his terrific appeal for solidarity. He explains why this seemingly exotic instance of “Asian despotism” is worth everyone’s attention: because it exemplifies politically and environmentally destructive processes under way throughout the world, and because the choice made by very different Russian activists to defend one another in the face of this onslaught is inspiring and deserves our support.
The Russian opposition has chosen to show its strength by sticking together. The protest leader Chirikova who by all means can be described as a mainstream environmentalist with modest and well informed arguments was among the speakers at the press conference to defend the arrested anti fascists Solopov and Gaskarov. It is hard to believe that the spectacular arrest by special riot and anti-terrorist police force of her directly after this press conference is anything else than an attempt to put a violence stamp on the whole environmental protest and create fear. But those in power failed to split the Russian movement. The 19 of January committee which is the result of the unification of forces during the comemoration of the murder of Markelov and Baburova calls for solidarity. It is now up to international movements to show that the provocation against the European environmental opinion in completely disregarding the local opinion against building of the toll highway through the Khimki forest and still believing in financial support from Europe is met by a strong no. It is even more up to the whole global environmental justice and all popular movements to show that the attempts at using right wing extremism combined with repression against a movement is not accept[able] in Moscow or anywhere else.
The growing repression we have seen at the Climate summit in Copenhagen, against the landless movement MST in Brazil, against migrants and protesters of all kinds not only in impoverished countries but also the rich and industrialized must be confronted by common efforts. The authorities start to leave all earlier notions of freedom of expression and individual evidence for committing a crime behind. The heavy possible and necessary involvement of EU funding in the project through EBRD and the European Investment Bank makes it also possible to mobilize substantial protests against the project. We have to join hands across borders and movements to build solidarity.
We should point out that on August 5, Yevgenia Chirikova was again kidnapped by police — after a second interrogation in connection with the Khimki town hall incident — and taken to the Khimki justice of the peace, who sentenced her to fines of 1,500 rubles and 800 rubles for (respectively) “organizing an illegal demonstration” and “disobeying the police.” She allegedly committed these crimes while on watch in the Khimki Forest on the evening of July 28.
Hunting Season Is Open
Carine Clément insisted that the [action against the Khimki administration] building was spontaneous. She was the first speaker at the press conference to inform [reporters] that Solopov and Gaskarov, detained on suspicion of organizing and carrying out the action, would not be released from police custody for another two months, [that is,] for the entire period of the investigation. “As if they are dangerous terrorists,” added Clément.
Clément talked about one of the people arrested on July 29, Alexei Gaskarov. “He has worked for the Institute for Collective Action [IKD] for three years. He is an educated [young] man. He graduated from the government’s Finance Academy — he’s an economist. He wrote articles on economics for IKD. […] Yes, he holds antifascist views. But is there something wrong with that? These are humanist views — the rejection of extremism, the certainty that all people are equal, whatever their ethnicity. I believe that this [stance] is absolutely normal in any country, as well as in Russia, I hope. Alexei was always one of the most moderate members of this movement. He advocated nonviolent action, the ideological, educational front of this struggle. Yes, he often appeared in the media, including on behalf of IKD, as someone know the antifascist movement well. He was in Khimki on assignment: our editors sent him there to cover the action.”
The next speaker was Mikhail Ivanovich Trepashkin, Gaskarov and Solopov’s lawyer. He began by showing the arrest protocols and explaining some important details. […] Solopov’s arrest protocol is dated June 29, and it states that Solopov was “caught at the crime scene.” According to his protocol, Gaskarov was arrested “immediately after the commission of the crime.” The meanings of the phrases “immediately after” and “at the crime scene” have thus been stretched to encompass a whole 24-hour period.
Trepashkin explained what motives could lead to a suspect’s arrest.
They are listed in Article 91 of the Russian Federation Criminal Code, but none of them apply in the present case. Solopov and Gaskarov were not caught either at the crime scene or immediately after the crime was committed. Otherwise, what are we to make of media reports that no one was detained [on July 28]? No one has testified that they either participated in the action or organized it. According to the lawyer, the police’s attempts to turn up evidence of the crime via searches [of the suspects’ flats] were also unsuccessful.
“In any civilized country, the case would be closed after such details were made public, and the suspect would be released from custody,” Trepashkin said. “In order to correct this flagrant inaccuracy, the judge a bit later alter[ed] the circumstances of the arrest to state that citizens Gaskarov and Solopov were arrested ‘on the basis of the existence of persons, who have indicated that they committed the crime’ — that is what the letter of the law sounds like. In my view, the judge fabricated the evidence. She referred to the existence of witnesses, but there is no record of them in the arrest protocols!”
Trepashkin told reporters that in the motion it filed with the court, the prosecution indicated that Gaskarov and Solopov had organized the action and that they had acted “in concert [and] by previous agreement.” According to the lawyer, however, there is no evidence of this. During the search they conducted in Gaskarov’s flat, investigators turned up “The Activist’s Handbook.” It was this find that enabled the investigation team to affirm that Gaskarov had organized the action. No other evidence was found. The handbook contains legal recommendations for carrying out civic actions, the documents necessary for them, information about the legal deadlines for submitting demonstration permit requests, and other useful information for active citizens.
Investigators have managed only to come up “certain” (this is exactly how Mikhail Trepashkin put it) witnesses, Khimki residents. […] “In my opinion and that of my clients, the case rests on the testimony of perjurers, and it was on this basis that their term in police custody was extended,” he said. “I believe that the hearing was held in closed chamber only to conceal these contradictions. […] I see no other basis [for this decision]. There are four grounds for closing a preliminary investigatory hearing to the public, as stipulated in Article 241 of the Russian Federation Criminal Procedural Code. [The first is when a case involves] state secrets — obviously there are no such secrets in this case. [Second,] if a threat has been made to persons involved in the investigation or the court, but in this case not even the surnames [of the witnesses] are mentioned, only documents. [Third,] when a case involves minors, and fourth, in cases of sexual crimes. When a prosecuting investigator insists that information about the case not be made public, he is guided by these stipulations and is pursuing two goals. First, to make sure that nothing interferes with the apprehension of the perpetrators, and second, to make sure that the rights of people involved in the preliminary investigation are not violated. But in this case investigators insisted [on nondisclosure] so that the defense would have no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses and compare their testimonies […].”
Investigators are clearly in a bind. On the one hand, the law has clearly been violated. Citizens should not toss various objects at city buildings, especially administrative buildings. Citizens should abide by the community’s rules and not disturb the peace. It is the police’s job to keep the peace and maintain order. But no [Khimki] city or police official has been able to explain how it happened that on the evening of July 28 the city and its administration building were left utterly defenseless. Or rather, none of them wants to explain this. But it would be stupid to miss an opportunity to explain this fact. Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, who also spoke at the press conference, helped reporters fill in the background.
On July 28, Alexander Semchenko, director of Teplotekhnik, Ltd., (the general contractor [in the highway construction pr0ject] and the official representative of the developer), called a meeting with Khimki Forest defenders and town residents at 5 p.m. in the Rodina Palace of Culture. Inspired with new hopes, [residents and activists] arrived at the meeting place at the appointed hour only to be informed that the meeting had been indefinitely postponed and a new venue [for the meeting] had not been decided on. According to Chirikova, around 300 people showed up for the meeting. The day before, a new logging machine had been delivered to the long-suffering forest park zone near the Vashutino Highway. Environmental activists would have interfered with the work [of this machine and the loggers]. In order to protect woodcutters from persistent demands to produce permits for the clear-cutting — according to Eco-Oborona [Chirikova’s group] and Greenpeace, these permits do not exist — nearly all local police were rounded up and sent to the forest. “They were guarding the illegal clear-cut from us in three cordons. We screamed at them to let us in, to let us stop the lawlessness that was being perpetrated. But the police did not respond and turned around to show us the best part of their bodies,” said Chirikova.
“We found out about what had happened at the [Khimki] administration building when journalists began calling us and asking us for commentary,” [said Chirikova]. “We didn’t know these people, but we were stunned by what they did: it provoked shock and awe. We are not at all a political movement: we are fighting for our habitat. Unlike the bureaucrats, we act strictly within the law. We act through pickets, demonstrations, and petitions. You have to understand that the defenders of the Khimki Forest are moms with kids, middle-aged women and men, grandmas — ordinary people who pay their taxes, go to demonstrations, and beg bureaucrats for years on end to please […] obey the law. We believe that this is how we should fight because we have no other resources.”
According to Yevgenia Chirikova, no one can go into the Khimki Forest nowadays. One of her comrades in the struggle arrived in the forest wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the slogan “Russia Is against the Logging of the Khimki Forest”: he was arrested and held in police custody until two in the morning, and calls to all the [town’s] police precincts [to learn his whereabouts] were of no use whatsoever. On that same July 28, Yevgenia Chirikova’s husband had two ribs broken [by thugs?] when he attempted to photograph the logging. And this was not the only assault that Chirikova recounted [at the press conference. The police do not accept complaints [from victims of such attacks], and it is also the case that people are slightly afraid of going to the police station.
At the conclusion of her remarks, Chirikova informed [journalists] that the environmentalists do not intend to surrender, once more emphasizing that they plan to use only legal methods: “Unlike the authorities and the police, we respect federal law and intend to act only within its bounds. Three years ago we warned the authorities about what is happening now — that s0ciety would protest; it’s absolutely logical. There are people who are more radically minded: they believe that our actions are ineffective — we beg to differ. It is obvious, however, that competent politicians don’t do such outrageous things. To cut down an oak forest, an old-growth forest, when there is an alternative, is abnormal. From both the legal and the ethical viewpoints.”
Alexei Gaskarov’s mother, Elena, talked about the court hearing. “The boys were allowed to say their piece at the court hearing, but no one listened to them. There is nothing they can charge [Alexei] with other than being civically active. During the search [of their flat] one got the sense that these people didn’t know what they were looking for. At first, they looked for [paint] spray cans, then masks, but in the end they confiscated books. The second time [they searched the flat?] I understood for sure that they had nothing against [Alexei]. But yesterday it became clear, when they didn’t listen to the lawyer and ignored all his remarks, that [the prosecution was not planning to charge Alexei with disorderly conduct]. Since they cannot prove [that charge], then they can try and prove [that he organized the attack]. The investigator hinted that the case was being handled at the very highest level, and said that charges would be filed in any case.”
Alexei Gaskarov, the media face of his movement, appeared many times on TV and radio after actions by his comrades. Trips to the police station for conversations were also a routine affair for him. This time, after being invited in by investigators, he reported to the Zhukovskoye police precinct as usual. And disappeared. His flat was searched at three in the morning, but his mother still did not his whereabouts. When she went to the police precinct the first time and [explained the circumstances], the police told her they didn’t know anything. When she showed up a second time, she announced that she would be forced to file a missing persons report. It was only then that she learned that her son had been arrested.
When Private Correspondent asked her how she thought the case would develop and what lay in store for her son, she replied, “The investigators advised me not to make noise about this case and gave me to understand that everything would be okay. One gets the impression that after the [incident] with the Khimki administration building, heads started to roll and that now what matters is to find some criminals and punish them publicly. If [Alexei] had not gone in for that talk [with the police] and someone else had gone, then that other person would have the same problems now.”