Gazaryan discussed the case Tuesday by cellphone from the Black Sea town of Tuapse while he sat in the local police station with his attorney, awaiting questioning. Asked to send The Washington Post a photograph of the fence, he promised to do so later in the evening.
Within several hours, he and his attorney, Viktor Dutlov, were seized by security guards as they approached the fence. Their supporters said the guards handcuffed and beat them. Police kept them standing all night in a cold cell, they said. On Wednesday, client and attorney were sentenced to 10 days in jail for disobeying police.
More than a year ago, Gazaryan and other members of Ecological Watch of the Northern Caucasus discovered that a compound was being built in a national forest, home to the endangered long-needle Pitsunda pine, for the regional governor, Alexander Tkachev. It includes, Gazaryan said in the Tuesday telephone interview, three houses, a gym, a swimming pool, a tennis court, a solarium, a marina and a house for security guards.
The compound and a wide swath of public land, reaching to the shore, were surrounded by a barbed-wire-topped metal fence, Gazaryan said. In February 2011, he got seven days in jail for sitting down inside the fenced-off area.
Environmentalists wrote to local, regional and national officials but always met with the same reply: There was no fence, no construction, no vacation house. In November, Gazaryan and others returned and pried open the fence. A couple of students wrote on the fence, he said, calling the governor a thief. A week later, they came under investigation.
His defense has taken up all his time, said Gazaryan, an expert on bats. Instead of preparing for the annual Eurobats meeting in Dublin in May, he was sitting in the police station. He had no regrets.