Photo by Anna Artemyeva from the “Novaya Gazeta” gallery
Following the 2021 protest rallies, more than 50 citizens applied to the Committee Against Torture with reports of violence applied by law-enforcement officers. At the present moment, we are working on 21 cases in Moscow, Krasnodar, Orenburg, Saint-Petersburg, Ufa. Part of the applicants declined our support, because they associate human rights defense with potential risks of prosecution.
Today, there is no shared vision on whether tortures are acceptable at all in the Russian society. For example, if a dangerous criminal is involved, the majority will find applying violence acceptable. However, with rallies and protests the picture is somewhat different. Here, the level of tolerance to brutal treatment by law-enforcement officers seems to be directly related to personal convictions of a specific person. Is it really true?
We asked “Levada-Center” think-tank to examine the citizens’ attitude to violence during rallies. The report presented by the analytics is based on the interview of four focus-groups in two cities, Saint-Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, where in the 2021 rallies the most brutal cases of police violence were registered.
Each focus-group involves representatives of various ages and professions. The groups’ attitudes to protest actions (approval/disapproval), as well as behaviors during the rallies (participated or not) are different.
The focus-groups participants were proposed to express their views on the proposed subjects:
- Why people go to rallies and manifestations
- Attitude of the people to protesters
- What can and what cannot be achieved by protest rallies
- Violence during rallies as a problem
- Attitude to law-enforcement officers and their actions
- Feeling of fear and assessment of risk of participating in such events
According to the conclusions made by Levada-Center, all the participants of the discussions acknowledge that participating in unauthorized rallies is related to the risk of being exposed to violence in one way or another, of being apprehended or subjected to some sanctions. At the same time, the majority of the participants think that brutal treatment is aimed at striking fear in their hearts as well as unwillingness to expose themselves to such risks.
Getting back to the experience of the Committee Against Torture, it is important to point out that our applicants on the 2021 “rally cases” are very diverse – there are some young people among them, as well as 45+ generation, too. Their professions involve pedagogues and students, creative industries representatives and factory office workers. Our applicants have been subjected to violence of various degree of severity. The most brutal cases were registered in Saint-Petersburg, where law-enforcement officers indulged in unmotivated aggression in response when a person who was not offering any resistance, asked not to beat him up.
Mariya Kasyanenko, 50 years old, social worker
“I asked him not to beat me with electric shocker, I said I was not resisting and showed that my hands were not in my pockets. After that, the police officer hit me the third time with an electric shocker saying, “Do I look like a joker?” I responded, “No, you don’t. You rather look like a sadist”. After that he hit me with an electric shocker one more time”.
Aleksey Tkachev, 22 years old, unemployed
“The officer who was holding me by my left side, took out an electric shocker and hit me in my left buttock about 4 times. At the same time, the officers were telling me that I was resisting and called me an extremely violent one, to that I loudly responded that I was not resisting. On the way, both officers were hitting me with an electrical shocker”.
The response to the applications from the citizens who were subjected to violence by law-enforcement authorities is ambivalent. For example, in Moscow, the Investigative Committee refuses to register the crime reports on all the seven cases in the region (including in regard to a minor). The same picture is in Saint-Petersburg – out of eight cases none were registered by the Investigative Committee as a crime report. At the same time, in six out of seven cases against our applicants in Moscow, for example, the administrative cases were opened for participation in a protest action. By comparison, in Orenburg all four cases, that we accepted for processing, were registered. In two of them, the court acknowledged the citizens’ apprehension to be illegal, and one of the applicants was awarded a compensation due to that.
The fact that the Investigative Committee refuses to register crime reports from the people, groundlessly subjected to violence during the protest actions, transfers the police violence at rallies to the “blind area”. Thus, when illegally detained or beaten up during a peaceful action, a person is not able to defend its rights and achieve justice. This creates a foundation for impunity of law-enforcement officers and for wide spread of such practice.
As a human rights organization, we are interested in an open dialogue between the society and the power authorities, and that human rights are defended by the state regardless of the circumstances and the political agenda.