On May 6, 2012, a large anti-Putin protest, the “March of the Millions,” descended into chaos as it was broken up by police in Bolotnaya Square, Moscow. Since that time, Russian authorities have prosecuted 27 people, and some of the trials are still ongoing.
Previously, The Interpreter translated an article, published by NG on September 20th, describing the trial against a protester, Andrey Barabanov, accused of injuring OMON police officers. One of the police officers switched his status from “victim” to “witness” because there were problems with his testimony and so that he could testify that the other officer was injured. The story is referenced in the translation below. – Ed.
During the clashes with the police on Bolotnaya Square on May 6, more than sixty demonstrators were injured. Only two of them were officially declared victims, and both suffered injuries not as the result of the actions by riot police, but because of what “their own” did. What about the rest?
In “Novaya” (September 23 issue), we talked about how the events on Bolotnaya Square are viewed by riot policemen injured there. On May 6 of last year after the “March of Millions” authorized by the authorities, over seventy law enforcement officers were recognized as victims. They suffered a variety of injuries (at least those who testified in court), from a broken phalanx to a scratch by a broken bottle. Many of them even said that they had not suffered from any physical pain. Having counted the “civilian” victims, the Investigative Committee came up with “zero”. However, the number of demonstrators beaten is comparable with the number of riot police “victims”, but the nature of the injuries is much less comparable. We turned to results of an inspection by the Investigative Committee in response to claims that the police were beating civilians. Broken arms, noses, ribs, bruises, but not a single criminal case.
On May 6, starting at 6 pm, the emergency services and the police started to receive reports of beatings of citizens by law enforcement officials. Those were calls by eyewitnesses and direct participants in the events. In the evening of the same day citizens with injuries turned to hospitals, clinics, and trauma centers for help. There were also those who happened to be in the vicinity of Bolotnaya Square, who were not detained but simply beaten. In total on May 6 and for the next several days over 60 people reported their injuries. Moreover, on that evening the law enforcement personnel used physical force against the protesters not only on Bolotnaya, but also on Tverskaya, the Patriarch Ponds, and near Nikitsky Boulevard. Claims and phone calls by citizens, transmitted from police stations and hospitals were investigated.
Abrasions, bruises, broken shoulder bone with dislocation, fractured ribs, a broken tooth, a broken finger and nose… These are just some examples of injuries with which people came to see a doctor right after the “March of Millions” and the next day. Among the beaten were two minors (one of them a 15-year old teenager), and a pregnant woman who did not participate in the march, but just went out for a walk.
Nearly all the claims by citizens and telephone messages were replied in the same way: “The information was not substantiated by objective evidence.”
On May 6, 337 policemen from the central riot police unit (OMON), as well as 1,900 policemen from the regions were deployed. Almost no one of those beaten by the police knows who exactly used force. No wonder, considering that even the officers who testified at the trial of the “Case of the Twelve” recognized that on that day they were not wearing badges with personal numbers, or those badges were hidden under the body armor. Those who were beaten near Bolotnaya Square got standard answers about the results of the investigation: the officers could not be identified, because the claimant has not provided any information about them. And how can you identify them by appearance? Just one face – a standard Jetta helmet.
Those who complained that they were beaten with a baton got a particularly sophisticated answer: the riot police were wearing the uniform of “Night 91” type, they did not have any special means, and it is unknown why they had batons. However, the Moscow OMON officers who testified at the trial as “victims” reported that they did have batons, attached to the belt in a special holster. They claim that they only waved the batons to intimidate the crowd.
The Investigative Committee officials looked for potential “attackers with batons” only among the riot police and among the officers from the 2nd Operational Police Department for the City of Moscow. The riot policemen from the regions went back home…
In general, the Interior Ministry has resorted to a variety of tricks. For example, the victim leaves his contact phone number. “In order to ensure an objective internal inquiry,” the person is called, but “doesn’t answer the phone.” A good reason to terminate the inquiry. However, they do find channels of communication to send a formal letter of notice of termination. Attorneys for the defendants in the “Bolotnaya Case” express doubt that such calls were ever made.
Many of those who were reached by the investigators abandoned their claims. Each of them had their own reasons. But one case is indicative – the story of Dennis Lutskevich. Physicians from the Sklifosofskiy Institute diagnosed bruises on his chest, thoracic spine, and shoulder. He didn’t even have to see a doctor for that: a picture of his back riddled with marks from rubber truncheons spoke better than any medical reports. It was even indicated in the inquiry records that Dennis suffered his injuries in the central part of Bolotnaya Square, for which 23-year-old sergeant Eliseev, the commander of the 2nd Company of the 4th Battalion, was responsible. Let’s remind you of the story of this “prisoner of Bolotnaya”. Lutskevich was not a political activist, not even at a layman level, he was not interested in politics. The only thing we can say for sure: he did not tolerate injustice and sought to protect the weak. That’s why he went to the demonstration with his female friends to make sure they were not crushed in some kind of stampede. Once the clashes started, he lost sight of his girlfriend, his shirt was torn, he was beaten, and at the moment of his arrest he was wearing only shorts. He concealed from his relatives the fact that he had been beaten. Perhaps that is why, after the investigation on Lutskevich’s claim was initiated, and he was called on the phone, he replied: “I was injured when I fell in the park because of my own negligence.” The conclusion that there was no violation of law by the police is dated June 4, 2012. Dennis was detained on June 10.
The investigation records contain the name of another defendant in the “Bolotnya Case”, Andrey Barabanov. He appears in the statement of Public Oversight Commission (POC), whose members were inspecting police stations on the night of May 7. Andrey was found in the police department for the Tverskoy district. “During the arrest he was severely beaten, he showed injuries on his side, leg, back, and head. He had been punched, kicked, choked with a baton, and the ambulance that had arrived for the second time refused to take him to the hospital,” according to the report of the POC, assigned to verify the facts stated in it. In addition, as clarified by human rights activists, the doctors refused to hospitalize the arrested people with injuries “after a personal conversation with officers from the police department.” Andrey was left at the police station overnight. He was not the only one there who had been beaten by the police. For example, there was a man (the newspaper has his name), whose head was banged against a paddy wagon during the arrest, he was kicked in the groin and was vomiting. The Interior Ministry did not react to the inquiry by the POC.
Another reason to stop the test: a person was beaten, but was not arrested. Again, it’s impossible to identify those officers who did the beating, and “the information is not substantiated with objective evidence.”
According to the police officers testimony, the riot police were instructed: to treat citizens with respect, to explain their actions and the reason for their detention. At 10:38 pm an ambulance answered a call by a woman who had a hematoma on her back and lumbar area. She was in the tenth week of pregnancy, a clear danger of miscarriage. The woman (we have her name, but her personal information is not disclosed) just came out to take a walk with her friend “over the bridge.” Next to Bolotnaya Square (she doesn’t remember exact address) she saw a woman being detained and shouted, “What are you doing, you can’t do it!” The pregnant woman was pushed and fell… Later she would say that she didn’t have any complaints against the police. And that would be the reason to conclude that “the information about unlawful actions by the police was not substantiated.”
Telephone messages about battered teenagers came from the Children’s Hospital #21 and the Research Institute of Emergency Children’s Surgery. At 8:25 pm a riot policeman hit a fifteen-year-old boy(we have his name, but the personal information about a minor is not disclosed) on the head and the body with a truncheon. The teenager suffered multiple injuries. The investigation did not establish who the perpetrators were. A minor girl suffered a bruised right wrist during her detention. She was taken to the hospital from the police station for “Basmanny” district. She did not answer the phone call, so the fact of abuse of power by the police could not be established.
Not all of the victims were so patient. Many of those who were beaten and detained on May 6 began to write complaints to the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office… Oleg Gariga came from Saratov to participate in the “March of Millions.” “At 6:25 pm I was on the Small Stone Bridge. I turned my back to the illegally formed police cordon and attempted to get away from the first row of protesters, because I resented the provocative shouts of the riot police, ‘One blow and you’re on the ground,’ ‘Shut up and walk away while you still have something to walk on…’ I heard a riot policeman shouting: ‘Get this white one as well,’ after which I was pulled out of the group of protesters by four riot policemen, who neither identified themselves, nor put forward any demands. They twisted my left arm, causing a sprain, and dragged me half-bent into a paddy wagon. They did not identify themselves, demanded I show them my passport, banged my face against the paddy wagon, hit me on the legs…” writes Gariga in his statement. In October 2012 the District Court of Saratov ruled that the 500 ruble fine imposed on Gariga in accordance with part 1 of Article 19.3 (disobedience of a police officer order) was illegal.
“I wanted to seek compensation for moral damage, which I estimated at 300,000,” Gariga told Novaya Gazeta. But the court awarded him only 20,000 rubles. In its ruling on the appeal of June 4, 2013 the Saratov Court invalidated the detention itself, and required the management of the Federal Treasury Department for the Saratov region to pay the compensation. However, Gariga never received the money.
But not everyone who tried to challenge the actions of the police on Bolotnaya Square could ensure such a “happy ending.”
For more than a year Victor Zakharov has been trying to get a criminal case initiated on the fact that he was beaten by police officers. He appealed against the rejection four times, and in the middle of August 2013 the court ruled that no violations were found in the actions by the investigator. On May 6, Zakharov was hit with a truncheon (with the handle), there was blood all over his face. Zakharov’s case is just a great example of how to carry out the “phone” investigation. No one ever called him, but according to the report he refused to meet to clarify the circumstances.
Another victim of the law enforcement officers is now accused of using violence against the police. Back on May 28, 2012, Alexei Gaskarov filed a complaint with the Investigative Committee requesting to open a criminal case on the abuse of power by riot police. When Gaskarov saw that the police officers were beating a man, he ran up to them shouting: “What are you doing?” He himself was knocked to the ground, kicked and clubbed. Alexei was detained on April 28 as a defendant in the case of “public disorder.”
Only two civilians were recognized as victims of the clashes on Bolotnaya. But not as victims of the police actions. Valentin Yastrubinetsky suffered burns on 7% of his body when a Molotov cocktail exploded next to him, and his pants caught fire. During the inspection it was found that the bottle was thrown at the police by unknown protesters, and Yastrubinetsky was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. The second victim suffered in a similar situation. Pavel Glazkov was hit by a stone “intended for the police.”
Now let’s remind what kind of “injures” the police victims who testified in court suffered.
Dennis Moiseev, who was the victim under the case against Sergei Krivov did not suffer any physical damage. Krivov allegedly shoved the riot policeman (wearing a bulletproof vest), and Moiseev “slightly lost his balance and stumbled.” Another victim, Andrey Arkhipov, suffered a “damage in the form of a bruise on the chin, and abrasions on the lower lip” when a stone hit his helmet. Sergeant Dennis Kuvatov says that Stepan Zimin threw stones at him. Hit him on the hand and on his helmet. A hit by a “piece of asphalt measuring 15 by 15 centimeters,” didn’t even leave any bruises, but broke the “phalanx of the index finger.” Kirill Kuvshinnikov also allegedly suffered from Zimin. He also injured his thumb. However, according to an expert opinion such injury could only be caused by twisting a finger, not on impact. Herman Litvinov agreed to be reclassified as a witness, because it was “a small wound” caused by fragments of a bottle shattered against an iron fence. Igor Tarasov recalled his “wound” only after six months: in December 2012, he said that Alex Polihovich hit him on the arm, and to the question about the reason for discrepancies in the testimony suggested: “Let’s just forget it.” Alexei Troerin was hit on the head, lost his helmet, but he doesn’t remember if he suffered any physical injuries. Ivan Kruglov did not suffer any physical damage. The total number of such victims by the police was more than 70.