MOSCOW, January 14 (RIA Novosti) – A defender of a Moscow Region forest was beaten and hospitalized in the capital – an attack that his supporters said coincided with a crackdown on their efforts to save the local woodland from getting axed.
Alexander Tolstov was forced into a car by a metro station in eastern Moscow by unidentified men, fellow activist Tatiana Pavlova told RIA Novosti on Monday.
He was stripped of valuables, beaten up and thrown out of the car, Pavlova said.
Tolstov was hospitalized and remains in medical care though his injuries are not life-threatening, she said.
The attack took place in the first week of January but went unreported due to the holidays, Pavlova said.
Moscow police said on Monday it received no complaints from Tolstov.
“It could have been a robbery, but it coincided with a wave of repressions here,” Pavlova said, speaking by telephone from a police precinct, where she was held for trying to stop the ongoing forest cutting in her native town of Selyatino, 35 kilometers southwest of Moscow.
Selyatino administration plans to destroy about 75 hectares of trees to make room for real estate development in the settlement, whose shrinking population stood at 13,500 in 2010.
Pavlova said that local authorities earlier threatened to charge her with extremism in an alleged intimidation attempt, and that a group of forest defenders were also attacked in Selyatino late last month, though not hospitalized.
A city administration official denied all reports about a possible campaign against environmental activists when reached by telephone on Monday.
Up to a third of the forest zone surrounding Moscow is slated for demolition, Alexei Yaroshenko, who heads the forest program at Greenpeace Russia, said in December.
Protests by local residents are often suppressed by the authorities, and protesters sometimes come under attacks from private security guards or get beaten by thugs. In November, a court in Moscow Region’s Krasnogorsk convicted one such attacker, ruling that he acted on orders from a city official lobbying for the destruction of the local Khimki Forest, set to be replaced by a highway.
Two other rights activists have been beaten in separate attacks in Moscow and in the northern city of Vologda over the past month, though police reported no connection between the cases.
In December, environmental champion Suren Gazaryan fled Russia and requested asylum in the EU over a criminal case that he said was revenge for his whistle-blowing allegations against the governor of the southern Krasnodar Region.