On Sunday, April 28, 2013, the well-known Russian anti-fascist Alexei Gaskarov was arrested in Moscow. He is an elected member of the Russian opposition’s Coordinating Council. The Russian Investigative Committee has accused him of involvement in riots and violence against officials on May 6, 2012, when OMON (Russian riot police) attacked a peaceful, authorized demonstration in Moscow.
May 6 was the day before Putin’s inauguration, and a mass demonstration had been called by the opposition. The winter and spring of 2011-2012 saw the biggest wave of political demonstrations in Russia in almost twenty years, as tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest election fraud. May 6 was also the first time authorities had moved to crush these protests. According to the opposition, more than 600 people were arrested that day, and 28 people have subsequently been charged in connection with these events, remanded to police custody, placed under house arrest or forced to emigrate.
On May 6, 2012, OMON officers beat Alexei Gaskarov with batons and boots. He filed a complaint against the officers who beat him up, but no one was charged. Now, a year later, and just a few days before the anniversary of the May 6 demonstration, as Gaskarov was preparing to lead a left-wing and anti-fascist column at May Day demonstrations, he has had a set of absurd charges brought against him and been arrested.
Alexei Gaskarov was born on June 18, 1985, and has been politically active since his school days.
Gaskarov gained fame in summer 2010, when, during the protest campaign against the destruction of the Khimki Forest, he was arrested along with Maxim Solopov and accused of orchestrating an attack by 300 to 400 young anti-fascists, who supported the environmentalists, on the Khimki city administration building. In autumn 2010, Gaskarov and Solopov were released from prison, thanks to a massive international campaign on behalf of the “Khimki Hostages.” In summer 2011, Gaskarov was acquitted of all charges.
Gaskarov has been actively involved in the mass demonstrations against electoral fraud in Russia since they began in December 2011. He was one of the speakers at the largest of the demonstrations, on December 24, 2011, on Sakharov Boulevard in Moscow. He was in charge of the security for that rally, where he had to stop neo-Nazi provocations.
Gaskarov is being held in the police jail at Petrovka, 38, awaiting a court hearing, scheduled for 11 am, April 29, 2013 at the Basmanny district courthouse in Moscow. Pending the court’s decision, Gaskarov will be remanded or released.
MOSCOW, August 1 – RAPSI. Opposition activist Alexei Gaskarov has filed an application with the investigative authorities, claiming that he was beaten up by riot police officers during the March of Millions, the Agora human rights organization told the Russian Legal Information Agency on Wednesday.
Gaskarov has also provided a video of the beating to the investigators.
Agora reported that Gaskarov went to the Interior Ministry’s Internal Security Department to speak with investigators about the Bolotnaya Square riots. During the questioning, he gave the investigators a four minute video demonstrating how he was beaten by police officers.
According to Gaskarov, the investigators said they would look into his statement within a month.
Gaskarov sent a statement about his beating to Moscow Investigative Department head Vadim Yakovenko.
Clashes with the police flared up on May 6 during an opposition march across Moscow, which had been granted official permission. Tens of protesters and police officers were injured. The police detained over 400 rally participants.
After May 6, the opposition continued its protests in the form of “people’s promenades.”
July 28 marked a year to the day since the famous demonstration in Khimki during which 300-400 young anarchists and antifascists from Moscow and the Moscow Region marched from the train station to the Khimki town hall (to the applause of local residents), where they set off smoke grenades, pelted the building with stones, and spray-painted several slogans on its walls.
It was a protest not only against the blatant clear-cutting of the free Khimki Forest to make way for a Moscow-Petersburg paid highway of dubious worth, but also against the methods the woodcutters employed to shield their actions from public protest. Environmentalists who tried to get in the way of the construction equipment were dispersed not only by police but also by masked soccer hooligans. When their masks slipped off, the protesters recognized several of them as ultra-rightists.
The demonstration was spontaneous: it was held instead of a concert by two Moscow hardcore groups. During the demonstration, Pyotr Silayev, the singer for one of these groups, Proverochnaya Lineika, encouraged the demonstrators with chants shouted into a megaphone. The megaphone is one of Silyaev’s traditional “musical instruments”; you can find old videos on the Web where it is clear that he is shouting his fight songs into a megaphone: “It’s time to take the consequences for your culture! It’s time to take the consequences!”
Another of the “defendants,” Muscovite Denis Solopov, an antifascist activist, artist (the first exhibitions of his paintings took place recently in Kyiv and Moscow), and a jeweler by training, was held in Lukyanovsky Prison, Kyiv’s notorious pre-trial detention facility, from March 2 to July 13 of this year. During this time he managed to catch pneumonia and spent Victory Day, May 9, in solitary confinement. Denis was meanly arrested outside the offices of the Kyiv Migration Service, which had rejected his asylum request. The fact that at the time he had already been recognized as UN mandate refugee and that this status had been confirmed by the Kyiv office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, did not stop the Ukrainian jailers: they had in hand a request to extradite Denis to the Russian Federation. However, all the protests actions organized by comrades in Kyiv, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and other cities were not in vain: on July 28, 2011, Denis Solopov left Ukraine and went further into exile, traveling to a third country [the Netherlands] which had agreed to admit him as a political refugee.
Two more participants in the Khimki demonstration heard the Khimki city court’s verdict in late June. Alexei Gaskarov, a correspondent for the web site www.ikd.ru (the Institute for Collective Action has specialized in coverage and analysis of social protests in Russia for nearly seven years, and Alexei has worked for them most of that time), was acquitted, while Maxim Solopov, a student at the Russian State University for the Humanities, was given a two years of probation. It was a surprising decision, considering that one and the same witnesses gave contradictory testimony against both of them, and that the defense had challenged claims that these witnesses had actually been in Khimki during the demonstration.
This largely “vegetarian” sentence was preceded by the stint Alexei and Maxim spent in the Mozhaisk Pre-Trial Detention Facility during the first phase of the preliminary investigation (from late July to mid-October 2010), as well as a vigorous public campaign for their release. Thus, during the first international action days on their behalf (September 17-20, 2010), thirty-six protest actions were held in thirty-two cities in twelve countries in Eastern and Western Europe, as well as in North America. Protests also took place in Russia, Siberia, and Ukraine, of course. The Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages managed in a short time to mobilize not only people in Moscow, Petersburg, and Kyiv in support of the young Russian activists, but also people in Krakow, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, London, and Berlin. In Athens and New York, protests for the release of Alexei and Maxim took place on two occasions in late September.
Political refugees from Moscow who (unlike Denis Solopov and Pyotr Silayev) have not made official asylum requests, continue to take the consequences for the Khimki demonstration, as well as for their protest culture, including the stones, smoke grenades, and spray-paint cans. They have dispersed to various cities and countries. They have not seen friends and relatives for a year now, and they are still afraid to return home. They were forced to flee Moscow a campaign of mass intimidation unprecedented in recent Russian history. The campaign has focused on the youth subculture scene to which many of them belonged – the antifascist punk/hardcore community. Arrests, searches, interrogations, and beatings took place throughout most of August 2010 not only in Moscow and the Moscow Region, but also in other regional capitals, including Nizhny Novgorod and Kostroma. In Zhukovsky, a town in the Moscow Region, seventy people were arrested before a concert, while in Kostroma more than 260 people were arrested in similar circumstances. The police officers who interrogated antifascist Alexander Pakhotin promised to cut off his ear, and it took him several weeks to recover from the beating he suffered at their hands. But they haven’t left him alone even now, a year later. In early July of this year he suddenly got a phone call inviting him to report to Petrovka, 38 [Moscow police HQ], for an informal discussion. Alexander reasonably replied to the caller that he preferred to talk with police investigators only after receiving an official summons. For Moscow police investigators, however, an official summons is, apparently, something incredibly difficult. It’s probably easier for them to hunt down and beat up obstinate witnesses – which is exactly what happened to Alexander Pakhotin.
Further evidence of the secret police’s abiding interest in the people who took part in last year’s Khimki demonstration is the canard that circulated in the Russian media in late June: Pyotr Silayev had allegedly been arrested in Brussels by Interpol at the request of Russian law enforcement authorities. Antifascists quickly refuted this lie: at the time, Pyotr was fishing, and he was not in Brussels. Apparently, the authorities were trying their best to patch up their reputation after losing the casing against Gaskarov and Solopov in the Khimki court.
And all this time the saga of the Khimki Forest per se has continued. There was last year’s big demonstration on Pushkin Square [in Moscow] with headliners music critic Artemy Troitsky, rock musician Yuri Shevchuk, and Maria Lyubicheva, lead singer for the popular group Barto. Then was there the temporary halt to the logging of the forest. This was followed by a vicious musical parody of the activists by a musician [Sergei Shnurov] who had been previously seemed like a member of the “alternative scene,” but now turned out to be singing almost with the voice of the Ministry of Truth. There was wintertime tree-hugging and springtime subbotniks. And finally, there was Russian president’s meeting with public figures and his announcement that the highway would go through the forest after all. Subsequently, we’ve witnessed the Anti-Seliger forum, to which two of every species of oppositional beast came (where were all of them during the constant demos and clashes in Khimki?), and their using the misfortune of the Khimkians to grandstand in the run-up to the 2011-2012 election season. Finally, there is the tent camp set up by the Rainbow Keepers and other eco-anarchists, which opened on July 27, 2011, the eve of the first anniversary of the famous demonstration.
What has this past year shown us? That in our country, any project, even one that is obviously directed against society, will be forced through all the same if big money and the authorities back it. That there is still no control over criminalized local authorities: not only have none of the officials mixed up in dubious affairs been put on trial, but none have even been fired. That the power of social solidarity still counts for something: if it cannot stop harmful projects, it can at least defend activists who have fallen captive to the penal system and get people out of jail. That radical political action (of which last year’s demonstration was an instance) is quite effective at drawing attention to acute problems, but that it must be effectively deployed and backed up with infrastructure, however informal; otherwise, the emotional, political, and physical toll on the movement will be too high and may jeopardize its very existence. This, perhaps, is the most important lesson for the social movement, but it bears repeating. As you know, in our country, even if you have brains and talent, it takes a huge effort to roast your enemy over the fire. For if you relax for just a second, lo and behold, he’s already roasting you over the fire. But there is hope, and the future still hasn’t been written.
November 12–15, 2010: New International Days of Action
We Demand that the Russian Authorities Close the Khimki Case and Drop All Charges against Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov
In late October 2010, Russian social activists Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov were released from police custody on their own recognizance by the Khimki Municipal Court. They had been arrested a day after a protest in defense of the Khimki Forest on July 28, 2010. Now they are free pending trial, but the criminal case against them has not been closed. They have been formally charged with disorderly conduct, and if convicted, they could be sentenced to up to seven years in prison. The dates of their trials have not been set, but meanwhile prosecutors are demanding that Alexei and Maxim be returned to police custody. Aside from Alexei and Maxim, there are two other people who have been charged in the case, and prosecutors might bring charges against even more people in the very new future. Since Alexei and Maxim were arrested in late July, police investigators have been stubbornly fabricating arrest protocols, evidence, and eyewitness testimony and using force to extract statements from the hundreds of people they have hunted down and detained. What will happen to all these thick case files filled with fabrications? They will form the basis of the prosecution’s case in court. And so the fact that Alexei and Maxim have now been released from jail is not the end of the battle but a signal that we must continue to act decisively on their behalf. We will not allow the authorities to cover up the illegal destruction of the forest and the persecution of its defenders with the soiled robes of counterfeit justice. We will force the authorities to close the Khimki Case and drop charges against all activists!
Why do the Russian authorities insist on turning activists into criminals and demanding prison sentences for them? For the same reason that they have either not launched or halted investigations into the near-fatal beating of journalist Mikhail Beketov, the murder of newspaper worker Sergei Protazanov, and the numerous attacks on Khimki residents. The policemen who beat up environmentalists defending the forest and arrested people participating in legal pickets have not been punished. The police investigators who tortured witnesses in the Khimki Case have not been punished. Can we expect fair trials for Alexei and Maxim when we have witnessed lawlessness and injustice so many times? Khimki judges have on numerous occasions shown all of us that we cannot count on their respect for the law and common sense. We demand that the case be closed!
The protest action that took place in Khimki on July 28, 2010, was a response to the lawlessness and violence perpetrated against local residents, journalists, and activists. It was a highly emotional response to the fact that all previous protests had not just been ignored by the authorities but had been cruelly suppressed. As a result of this protest, the Russian authorities began heeding the voice of the forest’s defenders. The campaign to defend the forest caught this gust of hot July wind and continued to act using other means. The authorities must end their persecution of the people who took part in this protest and the forest defenders. All charges against Alexei Gaskarov, Maxim Solopov, and other activists must be dropped.
What You Can Do
1. During the international days of action on November 12–15, 2010, hold eye-catching protest actions in your cities at official political and cultural events organized by the Russian authorities as well as outside Russian Federation embassies and consulates. Demand to meet with official Russian representatives and give them your petitions. Any Russian company, product or event can be a successful occasion for your protests.
2. Send faxes to the Khimki Municipal Court (+7-495-572-8314), the Moscow Region Prosecutor’s Office (+7-495-621-5006) and the President of the Russian Federation (+7-495-606-2464), demanding that the case be closed and all charges against Alexei Gaskarov, Maxim Solopov, and other activists dropped.
3. Continue to send letters to such international organizations as the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, and the UN, asking them to investigate the abuses by Russian authorities and intervene in the case. You can find contact information for these organizations here: http://khimkibattle.org/?p=650.
4. Work to get articles published in your local and national media that will inform the broader public about the case of the Khimki hostages and the new threats to civil liberties and the rule of law in Russia. Invite neighbors, friends, and colleagues to your solidarity actions in support of Alexei and Maxim, and ask them to join you in demanding that this fabricated criminal case be closed.
Send information about your solidarity actions as well as copies of letters, faxes, and media publications to our e-mail address:email@example.com
Maxim Solopov’s Term in Police Custody Is Extended
Today, September 28, Khimki municipal court judge Ekaterina Kudriatseva ordered that Maxim Solopov’s term in police custody be extended for another two months.
This time, the hearing was held in open chamber, and twelve members of the public were present — Maxim Solopov’s relatives and friends, and journalists. Solopov’s lawyer, Yuri Yeronin, petitioned the court to enter into the case record the personal guarantees made by State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomaryov and civil rights activists Ludmila Alexeeva and Lev Ponomaryov, as well as the good character statements made by Maxim’s university classmates and two university researchers, senior lecturer Dmitry Belyaev and Professor Galina Yershova.
Judge Kudriatseva notes that the guarantors were not present in the courtroom and that, perhaps, they “didn’t know themselves what they had signed.” On this basis, she decided that it was impossible to trust their guarantees. In addition, the judge that Maxim, as a university student, did not have a constant source of income and that this did not speak in favor of releasing him from police custody.
Maxim Solopov asked the court to release him from police custody because at present he is a final-year student studying towards a specialist’s degree. Next year this form of study will cease to exist, and if he is forced to miss classes this year, he will be unable to receive his specialist’s diploma. Maxim told the court that, whatever his sentence is, the lack of a higher education will have a negative impact on his life. Nevertheless, the judge decided to extend his arrest by two more months.
At 2:00 p.m. on September 29, the Independent Press Center (ul. Prechistenka, 17/9, first floor) will host a press conference on the case of the Khimki Hostages that will focus on the results of the pretrial custody hearings for Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov.
Judge Galanova Has Revoked the Presumption of Innocence
This morning, Judge Svetlana B. Galanova, the temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, ruled that social activist Alexei Gaskarov should be kept in police custody for another two months. Alexei has been charged with disorderly conduct (the maximum prison term for which is seven years) for his alleged involvement in a demonstration on July 28, 2010, outside the Khimki town hall. The other person charged in the case, Maxim Solopov, is also still in police custody, and the court hearing that will decide whether to extend his arrest is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow in Khimki.
According to Anya, Alexei Gaskarov’s girlfriend, today’s hearing was semi-closed to the public: only lawyer Georgy Semyonovsky, Alexei’s mother Irina, and Kommersant journalist Alexander Chernykh were allowed into the courtroom. The approximately fifteen people who came for the hearing – including Alexei’s friends, Anya herself, and other journalists – were forced to wait in the hallway. According to one of them, Alexander Malinovsky, Alexei appeared grim but held up like a champ. His supporters only had a few seconds to look at Alexei as he was led by guards down the hallway.
When I write that Judge Galanova has revoked the presumption of innocence, I have in mind not only her decision today to extend the police custody of Alexei Gaskarov, in relation to whom no investigative actions have been conducted for a month already (that is, he has not been interrogated, summoned to meet with the investigators, etc.)
I also have in mind the amazing document that Spanish trade unionists from the CNT-AIT (Confederación Nacional del Trabajo) received from Judge Galanova in reply to their inquiry about the fate of Alexei Gaskarov.
In a letter dated September 15, 2010, and marked No. k-9, temporary acting chair Galanova writes as follows:
“As a result of the criminal case materials presented by the investigative organs, the court ruled that he be remanded to police custody. Suspect Gaskarov can be freed from criminal prosecution if evidence is presented of his lack of complicity in the circumstances that served as the basis for the opening of the criminal case.”
Judge Galanova's Letter to Spanish Trade Unionists
For all intents and purposes, temporary acting chair Galanova declared that Alexei Gaskarov would remain in prison until his innocence is proven.
According to the presumption of innocence – the fundamental legal principle on which the criminal investigative and judicial system is based throughout the world, including the Russian Federation – suspects are not required to prove their innocence. On the contrary, police investigators and prosecutors must present evidence of a suspect’s guilt.
So it would appear that Svetlana B. Galanova, temporary acting chair of the Khimki Municipal Court, is simply ignorant of the law.
How then is she able to chair a municipal court, to work as a judge, to make judicial rulings that affect the lives of other people?
Galanova, however, does serve as a judge. Today she extended the term of Alexei Gaskarov’s confinement in police custody.
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.
The article below, which we have translated from the original Russian, explains in great detail how Russian law enforcement officials have been constructing their case against the Khimki hostages, Alexei Gaskarov and Maxim Solopov. It is our hope that after you read this you’ll be moved to do what you can to help secure their release.
We now know for certain that another pretrial custody hearing in the case has been scheduled for September 27. So it is imperative that you go now to khimkibattle.org and find out what you can do to support them. The faxes and e-letters you send in the next few days will be crucial in deciding whether Alexei and Maxim remain behind bars or are set free.
Hunting the Antifa. They introduce themselves as FSB agents. They detain young people and force them to testify about the riot in Khimki and demand that they sign cooperation agreements. Several victims of this police abuse have already sent complaints to Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chayka. The New Times has found out about the methods the siloviki are using to achieve their ends.
“When I said I didn’t know anything, they began beating me in the area of my liver and then my kidneys. I told them that I’ve suffered from a heart defect and hepatitis C since childhood, that there are problems with my liver, but they smiled in reply. One of them slammed my head against the table,” recounted 25-year-old Alexander Pakhotin of his interrogation at the police station in the Moscow suburb of Zhukovsky.
A Cage for Detainees
On August 21, antifascist Alexander Pakhotin arrived in the town of Zhukovsky with a large group of young people on a commuter train from Moscow. They were planning to attend a charity concert there. As he explained to The New Times, the concert did not take place that day. Instead, seventy people were detained by police without explanation and taken to the Zhukovsky police station.
According to Pakhotin, police officers copied down the young people’s personal information right in the police station courtyard. They were then herded into a large cage that had been set up outside. When Alexander approached the cage to find his friends, unidentified plainclothes officers grabbed him by the arms and took him into the station building.
“They said that I had been involved in the riot in Khimki and that I would do prison time,” Alexander recalls. “I told them I didn’t know anything, but they put me in a holding cell. There were several locals in the neighboring cell, people who had been detained for some kind of disorderly conduct. They tried to frighten me by saying they would piss on me through the bars. Then I was again taken upstairs to an office and the interrogation continued.” Alexander says that he asked for a lawyer, but his request was ignored. Plainclothes officers who identified themselves as FSB operatives showed Pakhotin as photograph taken on July 28 in Khimki not far from the town hall building. (On July 28, 2010, dozens of people in masks threw bottles and rocks at the building. On August 4, antifascists Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov were formally charged with involvement in this riot and remanded to pretrial police custody.)
“There were no people in masks in this photograph,” says the antifascist. “In it, some young woman is standing next to me. They explained to me that I wouldn’t get off with a misdemeanor, that I would be charged with organizing a riot. I really was in Khimki on July 28, but I had gone there for a concert and I wound up near the town hall by accident. My interrogators weren’t satisfied with my answers: they wanted me to tell them that Maxim Solopov (arrested on July 30 – The New Times) and Pyotr Silayev, who is now on the wanted list, participated in the Khimki riot.”
I’ll Cut Off Your Ear
According to Pakhotin, at nine o’clock that evening he was taken to the Khimki police station. “They took me to an investigating officer. The people who had identified themselves as FSB agents were present during the interrogation. The investigator didn’t like how I was answering his questions, and so then one of the officers who had beat me in Zhukovsky placed my head on the table, put a pair of scissors next to my right ear, and said, ‘I’ll cut off your ear right now unless you say what we tell you to say.’ They threatened to take me out into the forest, and since I’m a Belarusian citizen and have no relatives here, no one would search for me.”
After a ten-hour interrogation, Alexander signed what he was asked to sign. Then, at two o’clock in the morning he was taken to the second municipal police precinct in Khimki. Police officers there woke him up at six in the morning and forced him to sign yet another document. As it turned out later, this was the charge sheet for a misdemeanor. It states that at 1:50 a.m. on August 21, at Mayakovsky Street, 13, in the town of Khimki, an inebriated Pakhotin had used foul language, thus disturbing the peace.
Alexander Pakhotin was thus charged with two misdemeanors: first, using foul language on Mayakovsky Street in Khimki on August 21, and second, for participating in an unsanctioned picket of the Khimki town hall on July 28.
The Court Sides with the Antifascist
Alexander finds the charge outrageous. “On the night of August 21 and the morning of August 22 I was in Moscow. I was detained on the afternoon of August 22 in Zhukovsky. But as the lawyers explained to me, the officers at the second police precinct in Khimki backdated my arrest protocol to justify my arrest.”
On August 23, justice of the peace Olga Zabachinskaya of Court No. 258 in the Khimki District of Moscow Region found Pakhotin guilty of “minor disorderly conduct” and fined him 700 rubles [approximately 17 euros]. She also intended to rule on the second charge against Pakhotin that same day. But he requested time to find a lawyer.
A week later, on August 31, justice of the peace Alexander Yatsyk returned a surprising verdict: finding no evidence to corroborate the charge, he declared Pakhotin not guilty of attacking the Khimki town hall.
Now Alexander’s conscience is troubled by the fact that he gave testimony in the investigation of the riot. “They beat the testimony out of me forcibly, but because of me people who are in prison have suffered. That is why I have appealed to Prosecutor General Chayka,” the antifascist told The New Times.
Pakhotin's Complaint to the Prosecutor General
A Signed Agreement to Cooperate
Emil Baluyev does not consider himself a member of the antifa movement. He is an activist in the animal rights movement, and he often takes part in environmental protest actions. Like Pakhotin, he was detained on August 21 in Zhukovsky. “Emil says that he was interrogated by people who identified themselves as FSB officers,” Olga Miryasova, an activist in the Campaign for the Release of the Khimki Hostages, told The New Times. “They were also interested in the details of the riot in Khimki. But on the day of the riot, Baluyev was in Ukraine. During the interrogation he was handcuffed. He was made to bend over and beaten on the head and legs. After that they forced him to sign a cooperation agreement.”
According to civil rights activists, law enforcement officers beat at least ten of the seventy people detained on August 21 in Zhukovsky. Who were these unidentified men in plain clothes that beat the arrestees and also forced some of them to sign cooperation agreements? They did not reveal their last names; they only waved IDs at the detainees and said that they were from the FSB.
One of the detainees recognized a certain Maxim among these men, a person he had seen often at youth protest actions and concerts. This man had videotaped the protest actions of antifascists and environmentalists.
“As far as I’m know, officers from our Department for Extremism Prevention did not interrogate anyone there,” Yevgeny Gildeev, press secretary for the Moscow Region Chief Directorate for Internal Affairs told The New Times. Gildeev was aware of the complaints that antifascists had filed with the Prosecutor General, but he refused to comment on them. Another spokesperson for the Moscow Region police told The New Times in conversation that he did not rule out the possibility that FSB and Center for Extremism Prevention officers had participated in the interrogations. The New Times sent a formal inquiry to the FSB, asking them to inform us whether its officers had participated in the interrogations, but as this issue goes to print we have not yet received a reply from them.
Saving Her Son
Unknown men who also identified themselves as FSB officers searched long and hard for Nikita Chernobayev, a 19-year-old antifascist from the Moscow suburb of Ramenskoye. They went to his mother’s workplace and made inquires about her. On August 26, Nikita was summoned to the local police station on the pretext that he was being drafted into the army. According to lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin, FSB officers were waiting there for the antifascist. Nikita managed to telephone his mother and tell her that he was being beaten. Nikita signed the testimony the men wanted him to sign, as well as a cooperation agreement.
“Nikita told his mother that they hit him in the solar plexus,” says Trepashkin. “They put a plastic bag over his head so that he couldn’t breathe.” Chernobayev was released from the police station at one a.m. The next morning his mother called an ambulance. Nikita was admitted to the Ramenskoye Central Municipal Hospital. According to our information, Mrs. Chernobayeva soon thereafter had her son transferred to a Moscow hospital: a frightened Nikita had phoned her from the Ramenskoye hospital because he saw through the window that that men who had beaten him up at the police station were walking through the hospital courtyard.
Chernobayev's Statement to Russian Civil Rights Activists
In the hospital discharge summary, a copy of which The New Times has obtained, it is stated that Nikita Chernobayev was diagnosed with a closed craniocerebral injury, a brain concussion, bruises, and abrasions to the face.
Nikita’s mother is now preparing a detailed complaint that she will file with the Prosecutor General’s Office.
So this is how the unknown men who identify themselves as FSB officers have been investigating the riot outside the Khimki town hall building. What explains their cruelty towards antifascists? “Earlier, the antifascists stewed in their own juices. They went to concerts and organized protest actions of some sort,” says Olga Miryasova. “In Khimki, they encroached on the authorities for the first time. My guess is that a signal came from the top to deal with them in a serious manner. In any case, a large group of operatives and investigators has been formed to work on the Khimki case. They have to find the guilty parties and witnesses, but that isn’t so easy after all. And while they’re at it, they want to add new information to their database of extremists: all the detainees have been fingerprinted and photographed.”
It is unlikely that a criminal case will be opened against those who interrogated and beat antifascists in Zhukovsky, Khimki, and Ramenskoye. The special agents did not give their last names, and the Prosecutor General’s Office might decide that no one beat up the antifascists, that everything written in their complaints is a product of their wild imaginations or an attempt to escape responsibility.
A few images and videos from yesterday’s rallies in Moscow and Petersburg in defense of Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. The campaign to secure their release is still on: go here and here to find out what you can do to help.
This video from the Moscow demonstration features the event’s moderator, activist and journalist Vlad Tupikin, well-known civil rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, sociologist and activist Carine Clément, and sociologist and activist Boris Kagarlitsky. Clément talks about how both Maxim and Alexei are the kind of people whose work on behalf of various causes contributes to the building of “civil society” that the current Russian regime claims to be interested in building. Kagarlitsky argues that if the young men are not released, it will be a disgrace for all of Russia. They are being punished because their comrades had the “impudence” to tell the truth to the authorities, who are incapable of performing their jobs and taking responsibility for their actions.
This video, also from the Moscow rally, features Tupikin, who argues that the spontaneous demo outside the Khimki town hall on July 28 was a decisive factor in the subsequent backdown by the high Russian authorities (in the form of a temporary halt to the clear-cutting of the Khimki Forest pending a review of the route through it for a planned Moscow-Petersburg toll road.) After a fragment featuring Carine Clément, Alexei’s mother, Irina Gaskarova, talks about how there is no evidence that her son committed any crime, that the country’s pretrial detention facilities are overcrowded with people who are imprisoned for months on end, and that an investigator confessed to her that he and his colleagues know very well that her son and Maxim are innocent, but that the case is being curated from the very top of the Russian political hierarchy and there is nothing they can do. Irina Gaskarova is followed by Viktor Solopov, who also talks about how the police are fabricating the case against Maxim and Alexei. He also recounts how, when Maxim was summoned by the police for a “discussion” on July 29, he warned his son not to go to them because they cannot be trusted. This draws a round of applause from the crowd. He also talks about the police have been torturing and otherwise intimidating the young men’s comrades to obtain “testimony” against them. (We will have more details about this aspect of the case in a later post.) Mr. Solopov is followed by Seva Ostapov, another young Muscovite who was recently victimized by the Moscow police (and tried and convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.) He reiterates Solopov’s arguments about the untrustworthiness of the police: according to Ostapov, the words “police” and “lawlessness” have become synonyms in today’s Russia, while the words “court” and “justice” no longer have any connection between them. The video ends with Vlad Tupikin reading aloud a letter sent to the demonstrators by Vladimir Skopintsev, an antifascist activist now in forced exile in another country. At around 11 p.m. on September 2, persons unknown fired shots into the window of his family’s apartment in the Moscow suburb of Troitsk, barely missing the head of Skopintsev’s younger brother, Andrei. Instead of investigating the incident, police summoned to the scene of the crime took Andrei and his father to the local police station, where officers threatened to charge Andrei with extremism and began beating him up. The police released Andrei and his father only in the morning, confiscating Andrei’s passport in the process. (You can find more details of this strange but all too typical story here.) In his letter, Vladimir Skopintsev writes that his own experiences and Russia’s recent history have taught him that sooner or later anyone who comes into conflict with the “party line” will face repression. He closes by expressing the hope that one day he will be able to return to Russia and be reunited with the people at the rally.
The image at the top of this post was taken by Moscow blogger and activist anatrrra. See their complete photo reportage of the Moscow rally here.
A bit earlier in the day, activists and concerned citizens gathered under a cold rain in Petersburg’s Chernyshevsky Garden to voice their support for Maxim and Alexei and demand their release. The photo below was taken by the ever-reliable Sergey Chernov. See his complete photo reportage of the Petersburg rally here.
Yevgenia Chirikova, leader of the Movement to Defend the Khimki Forest, on why we should demand the release of the Khimki hostages, Maxim Solopov and Alexei Gaskarov. To find out what you can do to support them and secure their release, go to khimkibattle.org.
I think that the way the authorities are treating Gaskarov and Solopov is needlessly harsh and cruel. It’s barbarism: it’s wrong to put people in a pretrial detention facility for two months for a few slogans [painted on a wall]. I think that this sort of “show of strength” is simply proof of the fact that the authorities are powerless to solve this problem. There would have been no attack on the Khimki town hall if the authorities had resolved the problem of the Khimki Forest in a timely and civilized manner. It’s not such a huge problem to build the highway so that it bypasses the forest.
I think that all these court hearings that are taking place now should not be held in closed chamber but should be open, that the system should be transparent to the public. And I think that the [demonstration on September 19 in Moscow in support of Gaskarov and Solopov] is important, that you come out for it. Any one of us can be grabbed like this and thrown into jail without a proper trial and investigation, and this is what we’re seeing now in the case of Gaskarov and Solopov.
We ourselves, the defenders of the Khimki Forest, have encountered the same approach: we have been detained without any legal grounds and thrown into the “monkey cage” at the 2nd police precinct in Khimki. And there was no way that we could prove that we were in the right. Honestly speaking, I just feel sorry for these people who are now in a pretrial detention facility. And I think that the demonstration on the 19th is important for every person who has clashed head on with the lawlessness of the authorities. We must demand that this case is reviewed normally and publicly.
Thanks to antifa.ru for providing a transcript of the Russian text of this video.