We were about to publish a summary of the recent international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov issued by the Campaign for the Release of Khimki Hostages, when we received word that this morning the court in Khimki extended the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov for another two months. The web site of the Russian edition of Newsweek has the details (our comments are in square brackets):
A Kommersant correspondent has informed Newsweek that antifascist Alexei Gaskarov’s term in a pretrial detention facility [in Mozhaisk] has been extended by two months. The court hearing was held in open chamber. However, a small room was chosen for the hearing, and therefore only one journalist and Alexei Gaskarov’s mother were admitted inside.
Gaskarov’s lawyer told Judge Svetlana Galanova that his client had only been summoned for questioning on three occasions over the course of his time in police custody. [Gaskarov has been in police custody since July 29.] He also noted that over the past [two] months no investigative actions had been conducted [with his client], although over 100 people have already been questioned. [Our sources in the campaign say that this figure is closer to 200]. There is therefore no need for Gaskarov’s continued confinement.
He also noted that three State Duma deputies and three public figures had vouched for Alexei Gaskarov’s good character — the first time this had happened in his practice as a lawyer.
Gaskarov said that he does not consider himself guilty as charged, and that he was in Khimki during the time of the events as a correspondent for the Institute for Collective Action. He requested that the judge order him released from the pretrial detention facility because of the onset of cold weather.
The prosecution justified its request for Gaskarov’s continued confinement to police custody by arguing that Gaskarov had acted as part of a group of persons whose identities had not been established. He could not be released from the pretrial detention facility because this might impede further investigation of the incident.
The hearing in Maxim Solopov’s case will take place tomorrow.
So our campaign continues. Swedish activist Tord Björk reminds us what it’s all about:
Go to khimkibattle.org for updates on the case and the campaign, and to find out what you can do to help.
International Days of Action in Solidarity with the Khimki Hostages: Results and Lessons
September 17 marked the start of four international days of action in solidarity with Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov, which were initiated by the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages, an independent coalition of antifascist and non-authoritarian leftist activists and groups. The campaign was organized in response to the arrest of two young activists and antifascist spokespeople, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov after a spontaneous act of mass civil disobedience on July 28 in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Practically speaking, Alexei and Maxim have been taken hostage by the authorities in revenge for this demonstration. Hence the main slogans of the international solidarity were and remain Freedom for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov! and End the Persecution of Forest Defenders and Antifascists!
The geographic scope of the solidarity actions has been extremely wide. The destruction of the Khimki Forest has become an event in our new, globalized world. The Khimki municipal administration, the French construction company Vinci, its Russian business partners, and Russian federal ministries and agencies have all been seen to be pursuing narrow commercial interests in this case. When the social and environmental rights of local residents are regularly violated in this globalized world, and national law enforcement agencies take revenge for acts of civil disobedience with the implicit consent of international companies, the response is civic action that is no less global in scale. The days of international solidarity in defense of Gaskarov and Solopov were a vivid confirmation of this: from September 17 to September 20, activists and concerned citizens carried out thirty-six solidarity actions in thirty-two cities and twelve countries around the world, including Saloniki (Greece); Berlin, Hamburg, Bochum, and Düsseldorf (Germany); Seattle (USA); Kraków (Poland); Kyiv, Kharkiv, Ternopil, and Zaporozhye (Ukraine); Lucerne (Switzerland); Istanbul (Turkey); London (Great Britain); Stockholm (Sweden); Rome (Italy), and Copenhagen (Denmark). Paris (France), Athens (Greece) and New York (USA) hosted two actions each. In Russia, protests took place in Izhevsk, Irkutsk, Kazan, Saratov, Cheboksary, Moscow, Petrozavodsk, Petersburg, Omsk, Tiumen, and Yaroslavl, and in some of these cities, two protests took place. We also have heard of three other protests – in Mexico City, Budapest, and Ufa (Russia) – but we have not yet received photos or written accounts of them. We should also note that in late August and early September, before the official launch of our campaign, spontaneous actions in support of Gaskarov and Solopov took place in Tel Aviv, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Kyiv, Minsk, Petersburg, and Izhevsk.
How and why we protested. The key feature of these international days of action was the fact that protesters combined two kinds of demands: against environmental destruction and against police repression. The French construction giant Vinci, which is involved in the destruction of the Khimki Forest and the planned construction of a toll highway through it, became the target of a pressure campaign: in Bochum and Düsseldorf, protests took place outside the offices of its subsidiaries and business partners. In other cities, Russian embassies and consulates were picketed. In Athens, several activists from the Greek Social Forum and a Greek MP picketed the Russian embassy. They succeeded in meeting with an embassy official, to whom they explained that “forests have no boundaries,” that their destruction leads to the degradation of the quality of life in cities all over the world, and that the arrest of the two activists is an outrage. In Kyiv, activists performed a political play outside the Russian embassy. In Paris, activists took their protest to a Russian film festival. Around 150 people attended a demonstration in Petersburg, while between 300 and 400 people came to a rally the same day in Moscow. Moscow protesters were addressed by spokespeople for a variety of different social movements and organizations. They also had the chance to sign a petition urging the authorities to build the Moscow-Petersburg toll highway along a different route and to fill out postcards demanding that the Russian authorities release Gaskarov and Solopov. In all the cities where protests took place, environmentalists, public and cultural figures, antifascists, journalists, leftist activists, civil rights activists, and concerned citizens joined together to call for the release of the two young men.
Another important feature of the international days of action was the fact that information about the case was distributed to the public and published in the national media of the countries that took part in the campaign. This can be gauged not only by the thousands of leaflets handed out during protest actions and the banners hung throughout the participating cities, but also by the large number of media publications that appeared during the course of the week. If before this moment, manifestations of solidarity with the Khimki hostages came mainly from other activists, then September 17–20 saw the start of a wave of publicity about the case in the popular press and responses from the general public. The scope of the solidarity campaign and the variety of people involved in it show that the case of the Khimki hostages is regarded throughout the world as matter of international and public concern.
Observers and activists around the world have been particularly outraged by the repressive actions taken by local authorities and Russian law enforcement officers, who have employed physical torture and mental coercion against activists, sent thugs and ultra-nationalists to attack Khimki Forest defenders, and have thus as a whole destroyed the foundations of civil society and the possibility of dialogue between local residents and state officials. In essence, the crude actions of the Khimki municipal administration and Russian law enforcement have once again reinforced the image of Russia as a harshly authoritarian and repressive country, an image that it had managed to overcome with great difficulty only a relatively short time ago. International observers, journalists, activists, and protesters have made it clear that the taking of hostages by the authorities and their repressive style of dealing with activists are a blight on contemporary Russia’s image. But they are also a reason to seek sanctions against both the Russian authorities and the international companies who are participating in this violent game. In their communiqués, the participants in the international solidarity actions emphasized that it is unacceptable for the Russian authorities to respond to civic protests with repressive measures, for local and federal officials to sanction violence against activists.
The worldwide wave of solidarity and media attention will continue to grow until Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov are released and the false charges against them dropped.
Other highlights of the campaign. Dozens of faxed messages were sent to the Khimki municipal court, the Moscow Region prosecutor’s office, and the president of the Russian Federation from cities around the world. Russian state and international organizations received hundreds of emails pointing out the collapse of the rule of law in Khimki and calling on the addressees to stop these repressions and free Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov.
During protest actions in Russia itself, campaigners collected more than 700 postcards addressed to the Russian president: the signatories asked him to release the Khimki hostages. On September 23, campaigners delivered these postcards to the public reception office of the presidential administration in central Moscow.
Open letters. September 7 saw the publication of an open letter of support for the Khimki hostages signed by representatives of fifteen leading environmental and civil rights organizations from a number of countries: Patrick Bond, Centre for Civil Society Environmental Justice Project, Durban, South Africa; Mark Barrett, Climate Justice Action London, UK; Mark Brown, Art Not Oil/Rising Tide, UK; Carmen Buerba de Comite de Defensa Ecologica Michoacana, Mexico; Nicola Bullard, Focus on the Global South, Thailand; Ellie Cijvat, Friends of the Earth Sweden; Joshua Kahn Russell, Ruckus Society, USA; Tom Kucharz, Ecologistas en Acción, Spain; Maduresh Kumar, National Alliance of People’s Movements, India; Marea Creciente Mexico; Adriana Matalonga, Miguel Valencia and Mauricio Villegas, Ecomunidades and Klimaforum10, Mexico; Tannie Nyböe, Climate Justice Action, Denmark; Uddhab Pyakurel, South Asian Dialogue on Ecological Democracy, India; Josie Riffaud, Via Campesina, France; Marko Ulvila, Friends of the Earth Finland; Thomas Wallgren, Democracy Forum Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, Finland.
On September 20, more than fifty Russian public figures and human rights activists signed an open letter to the Russian president. Its authors pointed out to the president that “this kind of lawlessness has no place in a democratic state based on the rule of law.” They called on the president to protect “two socially conscious and publicly active young people from reprisal and to stop the terror against journalists and social activists.” The signatories include Ludmila Alexeeva (chair of the Moscow Helsinki Group), Lev Ponomaryov (For Human Rights), Boris Strugatsky (writer), Oleg Orlov (chair, Memorial Human Rights Centre), Yuri Samodurov (curator), and Gleb Yakunin (Public Committee for the Defense of Freedom of Conscience).
What we should not forget. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were arrested on July 29, a day after a spontaneous protest involving hundreds of young antifascists took place in the town of Khimki. This was not a pre-announced, pre-planned or “permitted” action, but a demonstration of civil disobedience. No one was arrested during the action itself. Its aftermath has been twofold. On the one hand, the controversy surrounding the destruction of the Khimki Forest received much more attention from society, the media, and high-ranking Russian state officials. As a result of this attention, the Russian president ordered a temporary halt to the project to build a toll highway through the forest. On the other hand, local officials and law enforcement agencies launched a campaign of intimidation against activists the very next day. Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were summoned by the police for “discussions” and arrested. Police and prosecutors have falsified their arrest protocols and fabricated eyewitness testimony and other evidence in the case. Over the following month and a half, more than 200 young people were detained and interrogated in Moscow and the Moscow Region, as well as in Nizhniy Novgorod, Kostroma, and Samara. These interrogations involved systematic, extremely crude violations of the detainees’ rights on the part of the police and physical violence, although in the majority of cases these violations and acts of violence have not been documented. However, thanks to the courage of three detained activists – Alexander Pakhotin, Emil Baluyev, and Nikita Chernobayev – we have eyewitness accounts of these crimes. After their interrogations, they sought medical attention (to document their injuries) and filed formal complaints against the illegal actions of law enforcement officials.
The disproportionate, violent response of Russian officials to this act of civil disobedience, whose goal was to criticize the Khimki town administration, continues. Over the past three years, Khimki officials have used repressive police methods against activists and residents and given their implicit consent to violent criminal attacks against forest defenders. As our international days of action have shown, the response to the illegal coercion employed by the authorities will be growing international support for Russian activists, the return of Russia’s negative image, and international sanctions against Russian government agencies and organizations.
You can find full information about the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages on our web site: http://khimkibattle.org/. Call us at +7 (915) 053-5912 or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.