Illustration: Boris Khmelniy / Mediazona
Record numbers of people have been detained at anti-war protests across Russia since the country’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February. Although mass coordinated protests have been hampered by the Russian authorities’ wholesale attack on opposition organisations in recent years, people are still coming out to protest against the war – with pickets, unsanctioned rallies and statements online. In response, the police have detained protesters and passers-by en masse, and subjected them, on occasion, to brutal treatment.
The article was translated by oDR / openDemocracy
On 6 March, 2,500 people were detained in Moscow in connection with several anti-war protests in the Russian capital.
One incident, in particular, caught the public eye: the treatment of 25 women and four men who were detained near Moscow’s Krasnye Vorota metro station and placed in two police vans. After one of the vans overturned en route to the city’s southern outskirts, all 29 detainees were placed in a single van. On arrival at a police station in the suburb of Brateevo, they were subject to humiliation and beatings, as documented in an audio recording made secretly by one of the women.
"Putin is on our side. You are the enemies of Russia. You are the enemy of the people. Now we’ll f*** you up here, and that’s it. It’s a done deal. We will even get a bonus for this,” one police officer shouted.
Mediazona, a Russian media outlet that focuses on the country’s law and justice system, attempted to create a complete picture of what had happened to the protesters in Brateevo. openDemocracy provides a translation and abridged version of the article below.
Mediazona asked the press department of the Moscow Ministry of Internal Affairs for comment on the incident. It refused, asking Mediazona to submit an official request instead (a process that takes 30 days).
“It was really hot, we all stripped down to our T-shirts. There was nothing to hold on to, nothing to breathe.”
This is how Tatyana, 19, a web designer, described the scene as 29 protesters were crammed into a single police van, late in the afternoon of 6 March. The other van had crashed near Moscow’s Komsomolsky Prospect, en route to Brateevo, and police had pushed everyone into the same vehicle. There were 29 people in total: four men, 25 women.
“You’re holding on to the roof of the van, but it’s all wet and you’re just flying around. We had to hold on to one another,” Tatyana said.
Anastasia, 18, a student, recalls how the detainees had to help each other remove their coats because it was so warm inside the van. “It was impossible to take off our clothes ourselves, so we had to ask others to pull them off. It only made things worse because there was no room. At first, we were singing, but then we stopped even talking – we tried to save the air,” she said.
When the police van reached Brateevo police station, Russian National Guard officers escorted them to an assembly hall, made them sit down and took their passports. Detainees then heard, via loudspeakers, that the police station had enacted a special entry/exit regime that meant no one could enter – including legal personnel. This is a practice now employed regularly by Moscow police to isolate people detained at protests.
The police, both in uniform and plainclothes, refused to identify themselves, detainees said.
They then told detainees that their “rights had ended at the door”, and began their “psychological work”. This involved “inappropriate jokes”. “Boys with hair a little longer than usual were asked if they were girls; girls with short hair were bullied and called terrible names,” she remembers. For some reason, the police did not remove detainees’ phones, and they set up a group chat on Telegram.
Anastasia was one of the first to be taken out of the assembly hall along with another woman. In an office on another floor, the police wanted to take photographs of the women, but they refused.
“Then they began to bring more in pairs. Someone refused to be photographed, and the police didn’t like it at all. [...] One of the police officers told us that he would ‘apply the law’ – that is, use force if we did not agree.”
With each refusal to be photographed, the police became more and more irritated and angry, the student says.
At some point, a “man in black” appeared in the corridor. All the detainees remember him. “A young man, 30 to 40 years old, athletic build, wearing a black turtleneck. And he had such a fashionable pistol holster, with straps going down both arms,” recalls Tatyana.
When Anastasia was returned to the assembly hall – after signing a police report accompanied by insults (“Why are you pretending to read, you can’t understand anything, you don’t have brains, stupid creature”) – she saw that other detained women had written in the group chat that “the man in black” had beaten and mocked them. Mediazona has seen the messages in question.
“I was hit twice when I was being questioned […] But I feel rather normal; in terms of recording [the bruises] there is most likely nothing left,” one girl wrote.
“Right. Who hit you, the guy in a black turtleneck?” another answered.
“Yes. He also, I think, has a holster.”
“Yes Yes Yes. The **** detective.”
“That psycho swore at me, pulled off his mask and glasses, jumped, waved the chair in the air [and stopped right in front of my face], but I have no bruises. Just some kind of psycho,” a third woman added.
“Oh, he just threatened me with a chair. I said ‘Go on’ and he stopped talking, but then he started yelling again.”
When 20-year-old healthcare worker Yevgenia was taken to office #103, there were two women and two men there, all without COVID masks and wearing civilian clothes. One man, in a blue sweater, was smoking an electronic cigarette. The other, the same man in black as before, got a phone call and left the office.
The remaining policeman put Yevgenia on a chair and asked: “Will you [mess about] or will we talk normally?” She did not know how to answer and said: “Yes.” The policeman began to ask questions about where she lived and worked. Then he insulted her, demanded that she “not **** [lie],” and warned that if she was beaten, the police would face “nothing for it”.
A few minutes later, this threat was made real by the man in a black turtleneck, who returned to the office. He hovered over Yevgenia and demanded that she unlock her phone.
“The man started yelling: ‘And if I hit you in the mouth, where will you run?’ I just kept quiet. I said that I would not take out the phone, then he hit me three times on the shoulder with his hand. After that, leaning on a chair, he hit me with his knee,” she recalls.
Then the policeman forced the girl to stand up, took hold of her hands, and ordered his colleague (the one with an electronic cigarette) to get the phone out of her jeans pocket.
Yevgenia was lucky, one might say – apparently, the “man in black” had not yet had time to think of a plan of torture.
But when 19-year-old Anna entered room #103, she cited her constitutional right to remain silent, and the man in black poured water down her collar. When Anna refused to unlock her phone, the man pulled her down by her hair and began to pour water on her face from above, which caused her to choke. Someone in the corridor asked casually if more water was needed.
The “man in black” removed the chair from under the girl and the two women began to ask questions in stern voices about her place of work and residence. When she cited her constitutional rights again, the policeman slapped her.
“He hit me hard, then asked if I would still remain silent. I said yes. He then hit me in the stomach with his knee, and my vision went blurry. Literally a second passed between the question and being hit. Even if I wanted to answer, I would not have had time. I burst into tears,” Anna says.
“Another man was still sitting in the office. He said: ‘now you will all be deprived of your virginity,’ calling us whores, creatures, [saying] that we need to be beaten. When I left the room with another policeman, the one in black kicked me and shouted: ‘[Beat] her again’,” she recalls.
The “man in black” behaved in exactly the same way with Ekaterina, 23. In the same office, #103, she was placed on a chair, with a table to one side. Ekaterina sat comfortably, cross-legged, and put her hand on the table. The man in black first kicked her legs, demanding that she stand up straight, and when she refused, he slapped her.
“My head rocked back from being hit; my neck still hurts. Then, calling me names along the way, he asked questions. I answered everything by claiming my constitutional rights, and then he took a two-litre bottle of water and poured it over my head. I got wet to my underpants,” Ekaterina recalls. “Then he took an ordinary antiseptic spray, which he apparently took from another girl, and began to puff it in my face.”
The girl did not answer any questions. Then the man decided to forcibly photograph her. He held Ekaterina by her hair while the policewoman sitting opposite tried to take a picture on a phone.
The torture of another detainee, Alexandra Kaluzhskikh, was made public on that same day – it was published by independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta. She was the only one who managed to activate her phone’s recorder during her interaction with the police.
The policeman beat Alexandra on the legs, doused her with water, cuffed her on the back of the head and dragged her around by the hair. “Not as hard as my father,” the girl said, in response to one of the blows.
Kaluzhskikh explains that, due to the complex PTSD she had developed after being abused by her father in childhood, she survived the torture more easily.
“Thanks to these ten minutes that I recorded, I became quite popular, but, in fact, I have lived with this for years. My father beat me, called me terrible things. I had a tough childhood and all my childhood I waited for my mother to divorce him. So when this happened, I took everything calmly. There was nothing new. I burst into tears only when I went out into the corridor,” she explains.
The detainees were charged with the relatively low-level offence of participating in an unsanctioned protest. They were held at the police station for between five and seven hours. Only one of the 29 detainees was kept overnight – a young man, who was eventually given 30 days in detention for a repeat offence.
After being released, web designer Tatyana, still in her wet clothes, took a taxi to her friends, who say she now has a fever. She was given a full examination in a hospital emergency room.No injuries were found, except for multiple head bruises – she is worried about the loss of her short-term memory.
“When they took out the bottle of water, I asked: ‘Are you doing this to avoid leaving bruises?’ They said, ‘yes, of course, how smart you are’,” Tatyana explains. She says that she has received strange messages on WhatsApp, possibly from the police officers themselves – the messages included a photo of her passport and asked if she had been to the police station. She did not answer. When Mediazona contacted the number that sent the messages, there was no reply.
The next day, Alexandra Kaluzhskikh had bruises on her leg and a pale black eye – the doctor at the emergency room did not record the injury as a bruise, instead claiming all she had was a light knock to the face. She left the doctor in tears: “He began to ask questions, asked me to put my phone away. I ran away and burst into tears, because he behaved like that cop during the interrogation.” Alexandra has suspected concussion.
The emergency room diagnosed Ekaterina with bruising of the soft tissues of her nose. Information about the violent injury was forwarded to the Brateevo police department; they asked her to attend an interview about it, but she refused to attend without a lawyer present.
The detainees are still using their group chat and are preparing to file complaints against the police. On the website of the Brateevo police department, they found photographs of three district police officers who were in the building that day – in the assembly hall where the detainees waited, and in the corridor outside the office where the “man in black” tortured them. Mediazona attempted to contact these officers, but received no answer.
“They heard everything, even walked around, saying that [the man in black] was a **** [idiot]. They knew everything and stayed silent – apparently they were scared,” says Anna.
Editor: Aglaya Shcheglova
The article was translated by oDR / openDemocracy
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