Alas, the Nizhny Novgorod criminal investigation legend has not imparted us why people dislike law enforcers.

Событие | Пресс центр

15 November 2011

Recently the regional version of Moskovsky Komsomolets has published an ample interview of freshly-appointed head of one of Nizhny Novgorod district police departments, colonel Vladimir Uryupin. The interview contains a phrase which I, a person who is also in real earnest concerned about the situation with law enforcement authorities, cannot leave without a comment.

Anton Ryzhov, Board member of Interregional NGO “Committee Against Torture”

Vindictive sword of the revolution

It is common knowledge that the nickname “vindictive sword” which Vladimir Uryupin uses for the police, was given to the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission created by the Bolsheviks in December 1917. Lenin called it “the banishing weapon against countless plots and assaults at the Soviet power”. Does this interview suggest that the

Nizhny Novgorod police colonel thinks himself the continuator of the given organization? I wonder whether Mr. Uryupin remembers the fate of “Iron Felix’s” associates – Latsisov, Petersov, Bokiyev –prepared for them by Stalin…

I believe that this law enforcement weapon – quite a mope-eyed one, as Russian law enforcement practice shows – must be kept in sheath… In my opinion, public control is the best possible option for such sheath.

By the way, an amusing comparison has just come to my mind (although the topic at issue is rather tragic). Previously members of the Committee Against Torture often used to hear: “What tortures are you talking about? It’s not 1937 now!” Yet, today it will not surprise anyone that people are beaten at police stations. Every year courts deliver piles of judgments regarding police abuse. Only this fact means that the authorities have perceived the enormousness of disrespect for the rule of law in law enforcement bodies.  

TheLawofthePack

“Obey the laws of your pack!” is Mr. Uryupin’s advice to young policemen. I disagree with him, although I am sure that this is what is really happening. There are sufficient examples. My friend has told me that on his first working day after graduation from the Interior Ministry Academy his senior colleagues told him: “Forget everything you have learnt at the Academy as soon as possible.” I’d better refrain from further quoting…

I may claim with complete certainty that there tend to less and less conscientious interior ministry agents. The law enforcers’ law of the pack, unfortunately, encourages abuse of office and excess of powers. Bribes are welcome, since “the fish rots from the head down”, and “500 rubles are not really a bribe”. The law of the pack means that its rules must be obeyed. Criminal rules, I must say.  Obey the rules to be successful, to keep your job. I am convinced that until there is effective supervision of Interior Ministry bodies, the situation will not change.

By the way, I have failed to find a reference to the Law of the Pack which Russian policemen should stick to in the Police Act (in Russia – Law “On police”). The Police Act says that police activities shall be based on the Russian Constitution, international law and federal regulations… I have not come across any mention of the law of the pack.

If you are beaten, you are… detained

When asked a question about treating perpetrators, Vladimir Uryupin does not beat around the bush: “If you mean detention, physical force is always used, because criminals who pose a threat to the society are resisting detention”.

Let us recollect the Russian Police Act adopted in March, for example, Articles 18-20 which clearly define the grounds for and procedure of using violence. Thus, when using any force the policeman should act “depending on the situation, nature and extent of danger caused by the perpetrator, the nature and extent of resistance shown by the perpetrator”. At the same time, the Act stipulates that the policeman must seek to “minimize damage”, and any force can only be used when “non-violent actions are not sufficient for the police to perform its duties”.

The same has been many times reiterated by the Strasbourg Court, so disliked by many policemen. The ECtHR is not against the use of violence during detention, of course. However, violence should be proportionate and based on assessment of the situation. To put it simple, if 10 OMON agents are knocking the hell out of a frail suspect who is not even strong enough to escape, the violence is not proportionate. Unfortunately, a number of cases dealt with by the Committee Against Torture demonstrate that sometimes the police go too far with their right to use violence and, consequently, injure detainees.

CATasindividualrelieffromresponsibility

Mr. Uryupin has also commented on the Committee Against Torture, my place of employment.  According to the colonel, the majority of our applicants are people who simply want to “escape punishment”.  

There are such people, no doubt. Moreover, I think that none of the applications received by human rights defenders can be a priori considered credible. It is true that defendants often lodge applications alleging ill-treatment which are deliberately false. In such context an application is a tool to protect oneself from criminal prosecution. That is why it is impossible to determine whether information contained in the application is true or false without a check.  

In such circumstances, an official investigation conducted by special bodies would be a logical way to search for evidence.

However, in reality it is the ineffectiveness of such investigations which in the majority of cases prevents both establishing tortures and refuting unfounded allegations of ill-treatment.  It seems to me, this is the main challenge for any Russian human rights organization the goal of which is to fight tortures. Struggling with omissions of the authorities becomes our major task in the process of prosecuting perpetrators and preventing tortures, upon the whole.

I would like to remind you that since 2000 the Committee Against Torture has checked more than 1400 allegations of human rights violations, established more than 100 facts of torture, ensured conviction of around 80 state agents (mainly – interior ministry staff) under criminal charges, 19 million rubles of compensations have been awarded to victims supported by the CAT by domestic and international courts.

In the majority of CAT’s cases we have failed to prove unlawful ill-treatment (for instance, because injuries had healed before we received the application). Moreover, in some cases we have proved that applicants were lying (by the by, there have been instances when we submitted proofs of applicants’ dishonesty to the prosecutor’s office upon its request). On the other hand, if we establish the fact of torture, we undertake to support the case till the end.  Above, I have mentioned the results of our work under this category of cases.

A gang with black belts

Mr. Uryupin has extensively commented on one of CAT’s cases. This is the case of a Leninsky district resident whose name I’m not going to mention.

Speaking about this case, Vladimir Uryupin does not scant epithets. And it is not surprising, he, being the head of the district criminal police department, personally interrogated the girl. “Head of the car thieves’ gang”, “black belt in karate”…

As the girl applied to the CAT and we thoroughly checked her application, I can give the following comments. This girl pictured by Mr. Uryupin as an extremely dangerous offender, was diagnosed with oligophrenia at the age of 9. At the moment she applied to the Committee she was suffering from a number of diseases, including enuresis.

The colonel boasts that the girl was detained the last, after all “members of her gang had already been captured”. I must note that documents included into the case file say that the “gang” consisted of two minors and our applicant – a slightly senior girl working as a salesroom supervisor.

That “wild gang” confessed to nearly all car thefts in the district (most likely, after some pressure; for instance, our applicant complained that she had been tortured with an electric shocker). In 2008 the court acquitted the girl of 8 charges, and her sentence awarded for what was left from her bill of indictment was suspended. I would like to emphasize that an acquittal in Russia is not just a rare thing, it is rather an exception symbolizing the complex and ambiguous nature of the case. Therefore, multiple acquittals suggest some conclusions…

 By the way, while the case was under investigation, the girl was placed on remand and kept in a packed cell for 1,5 years.

“I did not kill a person, but a criminal”…

It is not by chance that colonel Uryupin’s interview leads us to, perhaps, the most fundamental dispute in connection with human rights defenders and their work – the dispute between Volodya Sharapov and Gleb Zheglov. It is quite illustrative that Vladimir Uryupin’s colleagues call him Zheglov of our time. Please, note that they call him Zheglov, irrespective of the fact that his first name coincides with that of the other character.  Judging by the interview in Moskovsky Komsomolets, this nickname originates from Uryupin’s beliefs.

Mr. Uryupin is all in favour of Zheglov’s methods saying: “The cop has planted the purse on that person not for his own sake, but in the interests of the population. If he lets the thief go today, tomorrow the latter will fleece 5 more people.”  

I disregard the populist component of this statement (most likely, an average person who does not know the problem will say the same). I also disregard the fact that Uryupin has not given a more or less meaningful answer to the following question of the interviewer: “Today I’m beating him because he does not confess, and tomorrow I will beat him because he does not want to take “cold case” upon himself, is that what you mean?”. Nor even I’m trying to convince dear colonel that, for instance, it is generally mean and indecent to beat a tied up person, whoever he or she is…

I guess that all data required to answer this question is contained in Articles 5 and 6 of the Russian Police Act: the police shall carry out its activities basing on respect for human rights and freedoms, as well as strictly following the law.

Here is an artless recipe for dear Mr. Uryupin and his colleagues. Protect the law. Obey the law. The law which criminalizes tortures. It is not “their”, international law which says so. It is our, domestic, good old-fashioned law.

The problem is not merely that one specific policeman used tortures in discharge of his duties. The problem is that until this case was literally dragged to the court, the prosecutor’s office (now – the Investigation Committee) had been trying to close the case for several years. The perpetrator’s head covers up for him. His colleagues do the same. They testify in his defense in court.  And unfortunately, when one offender finds himself behind the bars, there is another one just like him to succeed him.  The police work the way they are allowed to work – neither better, nor worse.

To sum it up, I would like to repeat: we are trying to make the authorities work more legally.  We are not against the police, we are against human rights violations. 

Whose rights are to be observed?

In response to the question about “loads” of crime reports submitted to human rights defenders, Mr. Uryupin laments: “In our country there is too much talk about perpetrators’ rights, while victims’ rights are forgotten.” 

I personally find it impossible and inappropriate to explain human rights basics to Mr. colonel. I will just recall that human rights are sort of a shield protecting human dignity from unfounded interventions of the state. In other words – human rights are only about the relationship between individuals and the state. Therefore, all state agents’ declamations about “victims’ rights” are populist, often just false, and serve to justify permissiveness.

Taking into account everything said above, I’m deeply aggrieved by the fact that I have to give these clarifications not to John Q. Public (which is reasonable from the point of view of a non-governmental organization, and we welcome such discussions), but to a police colonel himself who has recently become a high-standing official and passed his performance evaluation tests.

We are not protecting interests of concrete citizens, but their inherent rights. If a competent tribunal finds the citizen guilty in course of fair proceedings, we will not object.  Amazingly, the majority of the Russian population still thinks that a trial is a kind of an undeserved gift for the defendant. However, the right to a fair trial is not a bonus, it is primarily needed for each of us to avoid being declared guilty out of the blue and executed, say, for pedophilia (by mistake, for example).

Certainly, Mr.Uryupin stakes on emotions. How come that we do not destroy the criminal who has desecrated everything?!.. Here the algorithm is simple, Mr. Uryupin, it has been given above: the task of the police is to protect law, you should not yield to emotions. That’s why you are vested with power. Not everyone, mind it, but you. The chosen.

A spoon of extremism

At the end of his interview the newly appointed police head strikes us dumb with the following statement: “If my will were done, I would order to shoot pedophiles in Minin Square”.

At this point it would be useful to recall the norms of the Federal Law “On countering extremist activities”, to be more exact, its enforcement practice in Russia. Equally useful is to recollect the case of Savva Terentyev, a Syktyvkar blogger, who was convicted under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (“Incitement to hatred and attack on human dignity”) in 2008 for his words that “cops should be burnt in the central square”.

In both cases we hear of central squares in provincial towns… What’s the drift of all this?..

By the way, we should not forget that in the process of catching the notorious Chikatilo, 4 people have been executed for his charges. And meanwhile, all of them willfully confessed to crimes, as you may remember.    What’s the drift of all this?..

But Mr. Uryupin does not stop here: “Give all criminals a shovel and oblige them to work in hazardous industries!” – exclaims the colonel.

My colleagues, members of the Public Monitoring Commission, have many times visited the 11th penal colony situated in Bor (Nizhny Novgorod region). For you to know, among its prisoners there are also former police officers who have found themselves in that facility not without the help of the Committee Against Torture. Via Vladimir Uryupin’s logic it can be inferred that these people cannot complain about the quality of their bedding either. … Uranium mines for everybody, literally. For everybody.