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Picketing for the police A ‘people’s gathering’ pressures Russian investigators to release three arrested detectives who apprehended and maybe beat up an apparent child molester

Source: Meduza

More than a year ago, three police detectives in a town outside Novgorod apprehended a suspected child molester. Earlier this month, the officers were themselves arrested for allegedly beating that man up while he was in custody. The case against the detectives prompted a public campaign in their defense, organized by one of the molested children’s fathers, who’d helped the officers catch the suspect in the first place. After roughly 100 demonstrators assembled outside the Investigative Committee’s local office, and following intervention by federal officials from Moscow, the detectives were released. Meduza reached out to the different sides of this controversy to find out who claims what.

In the spring of 2019, police arrested a suspected child molester outside Novgorod. Then they let him go.

There are about 50,000 people living in the town of Borovichi. In March 2019, Ivan Kulakov’s 12-year-old daughter told him that a strange man had cornered her on a bus, touched her knee, and tried to slip his hand under her skirt. Kulakov immediately called the police and offered to help find this man. 

“Our guys [the police officers] are all locals. This hit close to home for them — they want to protect their own kids, their friends’ kids, and their neighbors’ kids from this sort, from these pedophiles,” says Kulakov.

Using surveillance footage, Kulakov and the officers soon tracked the suspect to a bus station not far from a local school, leading the police to believe that he was looking for his next victim. Pavel Borovkov, one of the detectives, says he had to tackle the suspect to the ground when he resisted arrest.

The suspect was later identified as Yuri Ivshin, a 54-year-old unemployed man from a nearby town. He supposedly drove to Borovichi to ride the bus, looking for children to molest, says Borovkov. 

Ivshin’s lawyer, Dmitry Sobolev, actually confirmed some of this information to Meduza, saying, “He was on a bender. He came to Borovichi, boarded a bus, stared at kids, and grabbed their knees. What can you do? He’s got a screw loose.” Ivshin says he was too intoxicated to realize what he was doing.

Investigators charged Ivshin with molesting a minor under the age of 16, but the district court threw out the case on the grounds that he should face even more serious charges for molesting a minor under the age of 14. As a result, while the authorities retooled their case, Ivshin was released on his own recognizance, prompting Kulakov to circulate Ivshin’s photo on social media as a warning to local parents. A week later, after police identified a potential second victim in the investigation, officers re-arrested Ivshin, who’s been in pretrial detention ever since.

A year later, the arresting officers were themselves arrested after Ivshin said he was beaten and forced to confess to the molestation charges

Dmitry Sobolev says Yuri Ivshin had multiple head bruises when he met him after his first arrest. The lawyer told Meduza that Ivshin later admitted that he was too drunk to realize the women he was groping on buses were minors. Sobolev says it’s not unusual for police officers to beat up suspects in custody, but he was surprised that officers didn’t merely deprive Ivshin of food and sleep, if they were trying to extract a confession. After seeing his client’s injuries, Sobolev filed a statement against the arresting officers.

Internal investigators later charged three officers with abuse of authority, saying the detectives beat up Ivshin “to advance their careers and impress their other colleagues.” Pavel Borovkov and the other two officers, Dmitry Alexandrov and Edgar Afanasiev, maintain that they didn’t abuse their authority and say they never attacked Ivshin in custody, though force was apparently necessary when he was arrested. Borovkov says he noted this in his report at the time.

The case took a dramatic turn on May 20, 2020, when a SWAT team including Federal Security Service agents arrested Alexandrov and Afanasiev at their police department in Borovichi. Vacationing at the time in St. Petersburg, Borovkov reported the incident in a YouTube video, accusing investigators of “looking for any way possible to punish the police.” After he shared the video, Borovkov was also arrested.

Borovichi residents assembled outside the Investigative Committee’s local office in support of the detectives

After the officers were arrested, Ivan Kulakov started using his VKontakte page to rally locals, writing, “The city’s defenders from pedophiles need our civic support.” Kulakov said he would picket the Investigative Committee’s local branch with a sign that read: “Prison for pedophiles and freedom for detectives.” Kulakov told Meduza that he believes state investigators framed the officers in an attempt to demonstrate the Investigative Committee’s effectiveness.

On May 21, despite lockdown measures in place to contain the spread of coronavirus, roughly 100 people (most of them wearing masks) assembled for a demonstration. The crowd was large enough that a local Investigative Committee representative met with some of the protesters and put them in touch with the agency’s top regional official, Nikolai Konnov.

A people’s gathering in Borovichi in support of arrested police officers
Vashi Novosti (Your News)

The detectives were soon released and their case has been transferred to the Investigative Committee’s Central Office

State investigators initially wanted the three police officers jailed in pretrial detention before their case goes to court. Even after the “people’s gathering” organized by Ivan Kulakov, local investigators insisted that they have damning evidence against the officers.

Dmitry Sobolev told Meduza that there is in fact significant evidence against the detectives, including testimony from another lawyer whose client was reportedly in the police station when Ivshin was supposedly attacked and says he overheard the beating. 

The situation changed abruptly on the evening of May 21, after multiple reports in Russia’s national news media, when Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin released the officers and transferred the case to the agency’s Central Office. In Borovichi, a crowd of locals gathered to celebrate the officers’ release. Hours later, the detectives recorded a video message, thanking the town for its support and again denying allegations that they beat up Yuri Ivshin. The officers declined to speak to Meduza about the case while it’s ongoing.

Though the detectives are free again, the case against them isn’t closed. Sobolev says he’s confident the case will still go to court, eventually. 

Meanwhile, Yuri Ivshin’s pretrial hearing was supposed to begin on May 22, but apparent paperwork problems have delayed the proceedings until May 28.

Story by Pavel Merzlikin

Summary by Kevin Rothrock