Civil suits against Khimki forest defenders and two reporters get wrapped into one case by Moscow court

Publish date: October 26, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – Two lawsuits brought by the company Teplotekhnik, who responsible for tree felling activities in the Khimki forest, have been consolidated into one case against two reporters and Yevgeniya Chirikova, the now-renowned leader of the defenders of Khimki forest, which has been a lighting rod for government and environmental discord.

The civil suits filed by Teplotekhnika in a regional court in Moscow against Chirikova, reporter Yury Timofeyev of Radio Liberty and Yelenna Kostyuchenko of Novaya Gazata seeking compensation for money lost during this summers heated protests over the disposition of the forest, where wrapped into one suit seeking 8 million roubles ($260,600) in compensation on Tuesday.

The plaintiff specifically is seeking damages for the events of July 23, which resulted in a melee between environmental activists seeking to observe clear cutting, and a group of unidentified men where white hoods who intimidated activists and bullied activists. The police were summoned by activists, but Chirikova, several other activists, and the reporters, who were there only in their professional capacity to cover the still brewing and widely reported controversy, were arrested.

At issue is the building of an $ 8 billion high-speed toll highway between Moscow and St. Petersburg, which had been cutting directly through swathes of some of the Moscow regions most remarkable forestlands until high profile rock musicians and activists seeming forced Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to halt highway building operations for further consideration of alternative routes

Yet, Medvedev’s Public Chamber, advisory panel created in 2005 to serve as a liaison between Russia’s civil society and the executive power, still has not reached a conclusion.

Another suit has been filed against 12 human rights activists, among Sergei Mitrokhin, lead of the opposition political party Yabloko and the leads of the Left Front, Sergei Udaltsov and Konstantin Kosyakin for events that transpired on July 26. In this instance, the plaintiffs are seeking 700,000 roubles.
None of the defenders of Khimki Forest are in agreement with the filed suits. Apparently, there is not proof of guilt for either the activists or the plaintiffs, against whom a motion to produce sufficient grounds for hearing in Moscow and the Moscow region was filed.

An analogous motion to requisition proof filed against the plaintiffs during a hearing on September 23 in Khimki was sustained an the matter was committed for appellate review in the Khimki City Court of the Moscow Region.

As the activists explained to the court, administrative cases of court authority of different levels were thrown out either for lack of proof of rights violations or for lack of proof that the activists had done anything wrong. In addition, the case was brought against the activists under laws governing interference with police action.

The violation currently being dealt with by the court have nothing to do with the filed demands of the suit because, in accord with administrative protocols, non of the activists were charged with interfering with the work of the construction work of the plaintiffs, nor were they charged with any other activities that would have hindered the work of the Teplotekhnika contractors.

It is not entirely clear how the plaintiff will establish its motion for losses and their size, and whether these loses are a calculation of real damages or loss in profits. This is an issue that the plaintiff will have to clear up prior to the next hearing, which is scheduled for December 2.

Nina Popravko, a lawyer with the Environmental Rights Centre Bellona, contributed to this report.