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‘They put a bag over my head and beat me up’ Moscow protesters report torture and intimidation in police custody

Source: Meduza
Alexander Shcherbak / TASS

On the night of Tuesday, February 2, protesters took to the streets in several Russian cities after a Moscow court sentenced opposition politician Alexey Navalny to two years and eight months in prison. In the Russian capital, the police response was violent and upwards of a thousand people were detained. Among them was 21-year-old Alyona Kitayeva, who later reported being assaulted and threatened with electroshocks while in police custody. Since then, other detainees have come forward describing similar abuse and intimidation at the hands of the Moscow police.

The day after the protests in Moscow on February 2, 21-year-old Alyona Kitayeva — who volunteers for opposition figure Lyubov Sobol’s campaign — gave interviews to The Insider, MBX Media, and Novaya Gazeta, describing how she had been assaulted while in police custody.

Following her arrest amid the demonstrations in Moscow, Kitayeva was taken to a police station in the Donskoy district. As she explains, the police officers there demanded that she unlock her phone — when she refused, another detainee was escorted out of the room and Kitayeva was left alone with four policemen. 

At first one [of the policemen] kicked my leg, then he said: “Well okay, now we’ll choke you with a bag.” They had a grocery bag from “Pyaterochka” there. They put it over my head and started to pull it a bit. That said, he wasn’t exactly choking me, but shaking my head, so to speak. At the end he pushed me so that I fell off the chair. He said: “So, sit down quickly, now we’re going to use the stun gun. The stun gun doesn’t leave any traces at all.”

Kitayeva says that at this point she started to scream and ask for help — one of the police officers mocked her, saying “Oh help! Help!” Then he showed her a small red mark on his face and threatened her with felony charges for assaulting a police officer. “I’ll say right now that you scratched me,” he said. Kitayeva then proceeded to give the police officers the password for her phone, “seeing as they put a bag over my head and started to beat me up.”

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Other protesters detained at the Donskoy police station also reported harsh treatment (according to the independent monitor OVD-Info, 16 people were taken to this particular police station). Alyona Kitayeva’s 19-year-old sister Alexandra told Novaya Gazeta that she was searched roughly and intimidated — police officers told her that if she did “the right thing, everything would be easy,” but if she resisted “there would be problems.” When she refused to have her fingerprints taken, one of the officers said, “Now we’re going to break your fingers.” A policewoman then proceeded to shove her in the face; another officer “started to bend my hands and tried to break my fingers,” Alexandra Kitayeva recalls.

Then they both held me down and started to forcibly run an ink roller over my fingers. I resisted and asked for a lawyer, but they laughed and said, “Girl, what kind of lawyer do you have?”

As Alexandra Kitayeva was being taken to a cell, she asked the police officers where her sister was. At first they told her that her sister had been killed, then they said that she was “doing a striptease for them.” 

The Insider underscores that according to eyewitnesses, the notorious anti-extremism agent Alexey Okopny was at the Donskoy police station in the early hours of Wednesday, February 3. Alexandra Kitayeva told the Insider that she recognized Okopny as one of the officers who twisted her arms.

After spending the night at the Donskoy police station, Novaya Gazeta journalist Nikita Girin also reported witnessing police violence there. According to him, people were “kicked” and had their phones taken away; the police also took fingerprints and statements for the Anti-Extremism Center (“Center E”). Moreover, people were interrogated in connection with the criminal cases for blocking roads and violating sanitary norms that were launched after the “Freedom for Navalny!” protests in Moscow on January 23 and 31. 

Friends of yet another detainee, Andrey Rumyantsev, told Novaya Gazeta that officers at the Donskoy police station hit him in the solar plexus when he refused to unlock his phone. According to Rumyantsev, another detainee who was interrogated at the same time as him was pushed into a wall by the police. Rumyantsev explained that having gained access to protesters’ phones, the police started going through their social media and messaging accounts — in particular, they looked for “suspicious chat groups” on Telegram, WhatsApp, and VKontakte. 

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In conversation with IStories, another person reported police abuse after being arrested during the protests and being taken to a police department in the Orekhovo-Borisovo Severnoye district. According to him, detainees who refused to have their fingerprints taken were threatened with being taken to the basement — “and after that we agreed.” The source also claimed that one detainee who was actually taken to the basement had his arms and legs beaten with a truncheon “until he agreed to sign all sorts of things” (IStories didn’t specify what kind of documents were signed). 

OVD-Info reported 1,170 arrests in Moscow and 1,438 people detained countrywide following the protests in Russia on February 2.

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Story by Alexander Baklanov

Translation by Eilish Hart

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