Police Raid Rally as Human Rights Activists Appeal to Ministry
Published: April 7, 2009 (Issue # 1463)
Human rights activists appealed to Russia’s Interior Minister about alleged police beatings and humiliation of protesters in St. Petersburg last month, while the police broke up a peaceful rally against police arbitrariness and arrested a number of participants on Saturday. Four protesters were held in custody for 48 hours until they were released by a court on Monday afternoon.
The protest and appeal both addressed a protest held by anarchists in St. Petersburg on March 27 in support of workers who took control of their plant in Kherson, Ukraine on Feb. 2. The demonstration was brutally dispersed by the police, who detained around 20 participants, some of whom later complained of being beaten and humiliated during the arrests and after being taken to Police Precinct 76.
On Saturday, anarchists and ant-Nazi activists held 48 one-person protests — a form of demonstration that does not require any authorization from City Hall — along Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s main street, but were dispersed by the police, who detained five protesters and a photographer.
Protesters stood at a 20-meter distance from each other, holding posters with slogans against police arbitrariness such as “No to Unlawfulness” and “Policeman, I Pay You with My Taxes,” as well as rather more absurdist ones such as “It’s Scary to Live” and “Jah Is With Us.” Some had taped over their mouths so as not to be charged with using bad language in public — one of the standard charges used by the police against activists — in the event of being detained.
“I came out to hold a one-person demo to protest against police arbitrariness,” read the leaflet that protesters handed out to passers-by.
“A one-person demo doesn’t require any authorization. But the policemen do not know the laws and invent various pretexts for detainments. That’s why my mouth is taped — so that the police shouldn’t attempt to charge me with using bad language or drinking strong alcoholic drinks in public again.”
Two detained activists were charged with resisting arrest, and two with violating the rules for holding public events.
“It is obviously unlawful when people who attempt to act in a legal way are stopped and detained,” said one protest participant who only gave his first name, Dmitry, by phone on Monday.
“It appears that now, because of the crisis, everybody is afraid of everybody, they want to stop people from protesting. That’s why even the funniest and most absurd slogans are seen as a political demonstration and nipped in the bud.”
On Monday, the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council sent a letter to Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev ordering him to investigate the alleged beatings of protesters on March 27 and to punish those guilty. Copies were also sent to the head of the local Interior Department, Vladislav Piotrovsky, and St. Petersburg Prosecutor Sergei Zaitsev.
“The policemen kicked those being detained in the face, threw them in the dirt and kicked them in the kidneys” according to the letter, which cited activists’ reports on Indymedia web site. The site listed more beatings and humiliation inside police vehicles and at Police Precinct 76.
According to the report, one policeman identified as “Fokin” twice kneed in the groin an activist who was not resisting arrest, and beat another with his fists in the police vehicle while shouting “that he would kill us when we’re taken to the precinct.”
The Human Rights Council suggested that the police had violated Article 21 of the Russian Constitution, which says that “(1) Personal dignity is protected by the state. Nothing can be a ground for diminishing it; (2) Nobody should be subject to torture, violence, or other cruel or humiliating treatment or punishment.”
On Sunday, two United Civil Front (OGF) and Yabloko Democratic Party activists were detained when they attempted a peaceful protest on Nevsky Prospekt against repeated bans on public protests in the city center — repeating the attempt they made on March 29.
Their application was rejected by City Hall because of “anti-terrorist measures” and “intensive traffic” in the area. After spending 22 hours in custody, they were released on Monday.
“It’s an unhealthy situation when the authorities constantly ban social and political public meetings, pickets and marches in defiance of the Constitution,” human rights activist Yury Vdovin, deputy chairman of Citizens’ Watch and a member of the St. Petersburg Human Rights Council, said by phone on Monday.
“Citizens have the right to hold these kind of events after notifying the authorities. This principle of notification has been turned into a principle of authorization by the authorities. After this, Nurgaliyev’s [policemen] disperse all the demonstrations.”
Vdovin said that police beatings are “intolerable” and should be punished.
“They are crimes committed by law-enforcement agencies, and somebody should be held responsible for these crimes. In my view, if Nurgaliyev doesn’t take measures to stop it, he should resign. No country in the world would tolerate an interior minister who beats his own people.”
A police spokesman declined to comment when contacted on Monday.