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Torture has become standard practice in Russian police

March 28, 2012, 16:16 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila

An outrageous case of police brutality against a detainee in Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, and the man’s eventual death of the suffered injuries have opened Pandora’s Box. It has turned out that torture is standard practice not only at police stations in Tatarstan, but in other regions of Russia, too. Experts believe this diagnosis should be applied to the whole of Russia’s police force. The just-ended reform and professional attestation of police personnel has not eliminated the problems.

The ill-fortunate victim, Sergei Nazarov, 52, a habitual convict, was brought to the Dalny police department in Kazan on the suspicion of theft of a mobile phone, which, as it would turn out, had been stolen by somebody else. In an attempt to make the man confess local police raped him with a wine bottle and tortured him in other ways. As a result, the main died in hospital a while later.

As a probe has found, police at that department had systematically tortured detainees, but the supervisory authorities responded to complaints only after Nazarov’s death. The row that has flared up highlighted other details. It turned out that such incidents have been recorded in other parts of the country. A wave of arrests of police for beating detainees has swept Russia.

The Nazarov affair last year was a second that evoked powerful public outcry. A little earlier, a neighborhood police inspector beat to death a 15-year-old schoolboy, Nikita Leontiev. The chief of the St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region police, Mikhail Sukhodolsky, had to be fired.

Human rights activists say outright that police violence is standard practice spread nationwide. The head of the inter-regional human rights organization Agora, Pavel Chikov, is quoted by the daily Izvestia as saying, “Torture and humiliation of detainees are a frequent occurrence in modern Russia. There are sadists wearing police uniforms practically in every region of the country.”

Presidential human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin has said that Russia’s human rights activists get an average 5,000 complaints a year against law enforcement agencies.

Russia’s Investigative Committee has acknowledged that “cases of violence by police against citizens are not few.” In that connection the regional offices of the Investigative Committee have launched a massive probe into all complaints by citizens about illegal actions by police personnel.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev has said that his ministry will reconsider the rules of internal investigations of people’s grievances. Surprise inquiries will now be launched into complaints by public organizations and mass media, and the very procedure of inspections will be described in detail in order to rule out formalistic replies. However, experts believe that this measure will be unable to change the situation.

“No amendments to the rules of conducting internal investigations will help,” says the chief of Moscow’s police trade union, Mikhail Pashkin. “The system is to be changed fundamentally. The people’s opinion of the performance of police should be made the main yardstick to measure the success of policing.”

It looks like the Interior Minister has no idea of how to get out of the current situation. In any case, his ideas look extravagant to many. For instance, Nurgaliyev has asked cultural workers and performing artists to help bring up decent police officers. “It will take a long time to bring up a new generation of police – highly moral, resistant to negative influences and threats of professional deformation,” he said.

Also, Nurgaliyev declared it was necessary to introduce a special subject to the curricula at police academies, called Humanism. “We are very angry and cruel these days, we have many problem issues. What we really need is to just learn to hear what others say and to be sure we shall be listened to as well. We should master the skill of sympathy and compassion,” Nurgaliyev said.

Human rights activists are strongly critical of this proposal the Interior Ministry has voiced. “That sounds like some kind of joke. What is humanism? Is he really serious when he suggests explaining to people that torture is wrong? He must be kidding!” the veteran of the Russian human rights movement For Human Rights, Lev Ponomaryov, said.

At a meeting of the Public Chamber devoted to the problem of people’s security human rights activists came out with a proposal for introducing a special position of the morale officer, similar to the one in the armed forces. Such officers would be responsible for the behavior of their subordinates, which, it is hoped, will help rule out torture and other abuse by police.

Torture is often used deliberately by police for achieving immediate, routine aims, says an article in the on-line periodical, authored by the fund Social Verdict – created in order to provide assistance to citizens who have suffered from police abuse. The reform of the police force has left intact the old system of command and of efficiency rating, which is geared to achieving a result forecast in advance, the authors say. All police units draw up such forecasts at the beginning of each year.

As human rights activists say, the most absurd thing is the whole police unit is punished, if the forecast turns out to be wrong. “As a rule, a forecast disagrees with the reality. Falsifications are a means to digest that reality. Torture is one of the methods employed for the sake of achieving the expected statistics,” the authors of the report say.

“As long as there is no effective judicial control or thorough investigation by the Investigative Committee, as well as a of reform of the system of commanding and rating the performance of the police force, we shall see torture and other impermissible methods again and again,” the Social Verdict fund warns.

The chief of the fund, Natalya Taubina, has said that after the re-attestation of police the number of complaints against police has surged. “Whereas before we got one complaint a day, now we have two or three a day. Far from all of them turn out to be reasonable enough, but the overall number looks scaring,” Taubina said.

MOSCOW, March 28