The coalition of Russias leading non-governmental environmental organisations issued a press release today after the brutal arrest of Khimki forest defenders after a peaceful protest in the city of Khimki:
Moscow regional police authority urged to resign due to arbitrariness in Khimki
Instead of carrying out their duties of law enforcement, Khimki’s police are acting in a lawless way – detaining and beating legitimate defenders of the Khimki forest.
Whereas a range of crimes, murder and attempted murder to beatings and robberies committed against members of the Khimki forest defenders movement still remain uninvestigated for several years by now.
The urban district of Khimki has turned into an area in which civil society activists have to in fear every day for life, health and freedom as well as the safety of their children and beloved ones. Instead of protecting civil society activists and their families from crimes, police prevents them to follow their legitimate civil right.
On the 8th of May 2011, a broad coalition of members of the Khimki forest protection movement, including representatives of resident groups of Moscow as well as leading Russian non-governmental environmental organizations, gathered at the station of Khimki to walk through the forest, where illegal logging has been carried out the day before. The Constitution of the Russian Federation guarantees in article 31 the right for peaceful gatherings to citizens. The forest defenders didn’t commit any specific activities that need special permissions according to federal law № 54-FZ of June 19, 2004, so there was was no violation of legislation by the attendees.
Suddenly and unexpectedly, the attendees were attacked by riot police, who detained 20 person in a rudely and violate manner with an unreasonable use of force. Two hours later, the detainees managed to connect with people who escaped detention and reported violate and arbitrary treatment by the police, including denial of lawyers’ access.
With such practises, the police try to suppress resistance of civil society activists opposing the illegal construction of the toll motorway Moscow - St. Petersburg through the Khimki forest. The road construction through the forest is yet another example of the so-called „legal nihilism“ in Russia, as current legislation does not allow the road construction to pass through the forest: According the Federal Law № 172-FZ of December 21, 2004 on the transfer of land use categories, conversion of forest in a forest protection category (including forest parks, the category which the Khimki forest belong to) can only be permitted in the case there is no possible alternative location for objects of significant state importance. Since there are 11 possible alternatives for the road construction, including 2 officially considered ones, the chosen alternative, demanding conversion of forest in a protection category, was obviously approved against the law.
The decision to build a road through the Khimki forest illustrates that when it comes to the interests of powerful financial and industrial stakeholders or people with special administrative capacity, Russian laws for the protection of civil society’s’ rights are not implemented. The main co-owners of the concession company that plans to build the road through the Khimki forest are French multinational Vinci group and the Russian businessman Arkady Rotenberg.
The construction of the toll motorway through Khimki forest has become a symbol of corruption, lawlessness and bad governance on one hand, with insecurity and disempowerment of civil society on the other. This construction project undermines the legal basis for the existence of our state, drowns the remaining trust of the dedicated part of society in governmental institutions and splits society.
Therefore, the coalition "For the forest near Moscow" urges the President of the Russian Federation to fulfil the responsibilities entrusted to him by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, to protect civil society activists in the urban district of Khimki, against arbitrariness of the authorities and the police. We require:
- The dismissal of the leadership of the Central Department of Internal Affairs (МВД) of the Moscow region due to its inability to enforce and protect the rights, freedom and security of Russian citizens in its territory, and to reconsider the conformity of service of the Minister of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation, R.G.Nurgalieva.
- The investigation of crimes committed in the urban district of Khimki vs. civil society activists opposed to corruption and illegal destruction of forests and green spaces, and the punishment of the perpetrators.
- To immediately cease all works associated with the construction of the highway Moscow - St. Petersburg and to execute a professional and transparent investigation on the reasons for the chosen line through the central part of the Khimki forest while possible alternative options would allow sustaining the protected forest.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Russia
Save Khimki Forest Movement
Wildlife Conservation Centre
Russian Bird Conservation Union
International Socio-Ecological Union (SEU)