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‘I don’t understand why you’re beating me’ Moscow police respond to art event with violence, rape threats, and pro-war slogans

Source: Bumaga

On March 19, Russian police disrupted an event at Open Space, a popular co-working and event space in Moscow, that was dedicated to comic books created by artist Sasha Skochilenko, who’s currently in prison on felony charges of spreading “disinformation” about the Russian military. According to the independent outlet Agentstvo, the speakers at the event didn’t talk about the war in Ukraine; the discussion was dedicated to mental health and Skochilenko’s art. The officers physically beat attendees, threatened to rape them, and set up a bulletin board with messages like “Ukraine is part of Russia.” The St. Petersburg-based outlet Bumaga spoke to one of the victims, a friend of Skochilenko’s named Alexey Belozerov. With Bumaga’s permission, Meduza is publishing a translation of Belozerov’s account.

  • At about 5:00 p.m., the independent outlet Agentstvo, citing an online livestream, reported that security officers had come to Open Space. At about 4:00 p.m., eight men in masks with Russian Interior Ministry symbols arrived at the event, which had about 30 attendees.
  • The livestream showed at least two women lying facedown on the ground. After that, a person in civilian clothing turned off the broadcast.
  • Mediazona correspondent Elizaveta Nesterova spoke with one of the arrestees. According to her, after one of the event attendees refused to show police officers his passport, they kicked him in the head until he bled, hinted that they would rape him with a microphone, and said, “Now we’re going to sing patriotic songs.”
  • The outlets OVD-Info, which cited a reader, and Sota, which cited an witness, also reported that a young man was kicked in the head. Another witness told the Telegram channel “Freedom for Sasha Skochilenko!” that one person had an open wound on his eyebrow and that security officials beat one of Sasha’s friends multiple times.
  • An ambulance came to Open Space. Initially, the officers there wouldn’t let doctors inside, but they eventually let them in to treat the person the had beaten.
  • One witness told the Telegram channel Sota that the security agents had an intense reaction to a sign that had the name “Artem Kamardin” written on it. Kamardin is a poet who was beaten and raped by police officers in September 2022. According to Sota’s source, after seeing Kamardin’s name at Open Space, the officers started laughing, making jokes about being “stitched up,” and calling him a “faggot.”
  • Witnesses told OVD-Info that officers wanted to make event attendees sing “patriotic songs,” but couldn’t figure out how to turn on the speaker. One person said some of the detainees started singing patriotic songs as a joke.
  • 6–7 people were taken to the police station. Alexey Belozerov, a friend of Sasha Skochilenko, was fined 2,500 rubles ($32) for engaging in “illegal commerce.”
  • One witness told OVD-Info that the officers asked attendees whether they had any connection to the Feminist Anti-War Resistance.
  • The Telegram channel Sota reported that anti-LGBT activist Timur Bulatov has claimed responsibility filing the police report that led to the raid on Open Space.
  • Sota also reported that attendees of the event at Open Space recognized some of the officers as the same officers who conducted March 17 raids on two bars whose owners had held fundraisers for Ukrainian causes.

(List compiled by Bumaga)

There was a presentation, and speakers addressed the audience. I spoke about going to the print shop [to help Skochilenko create her graphic novels from prison], and several speakers talked about mental health practices and life with bipolar disorder.

We had several books that were signed by Sasha and had notes of gratitude from her, and we put together a pseudo-auction. We weren’t allowed to hold a [“real”] auction, because we didn’t have [official permission]. So I said we were pretending to have an auction: you name random numbers, and the person who names the highest one can send money [electronically], but doesn’t have to. I suspected there might be [someone there working undercover for the police], and there really was one; she was recording the whole thing.

We had our pretend auction, and then I brought in the books for everyone to take, and I suggested they send donations. Some people offered me cash right there, but I declined, trying to avoid problems [with law enforcement]. But that didn’t save me.

Skochilenko’s case

Price tag protest St. Petersburg artist faces prison time for spreading information about civilian deaths in besieged Mariupol

Skochilenko’s case

Price tag protest St. Petersburg artist faces prison time for spreading information about civilian deaths in besieged Mariupol

When everything had ended and people were ready to leave, the cops burst in. There were a lot of them, and they were all wearing masks. They made everyone get down [on the floor]. Nobody explained anything. At some point, they had me get back up and started searching me. I asked what was going on, and this angry cop said that I was asking too many questions, and he punched me in the solar plexus. I didn’t ask any more questions.

After that, they put me in the police van and took me to the Basmanny District Council. One employee there gave me her hair tie and wrote me up under Section 1 of Article 11.13 of the Moscow Administrative Code: “Commerce in unauthorized places.” And right then and there, she issued a fine for 2,500 rubles ($32). I resent the charge that I engaged in illegal commerce, of course, and I want to appeal it.

Neither the fine order nor the administrative write-up had an account of the crime, no description of the circumstances — just an empty header on the form and a conclusion. While I was writing my statement, the masked officers got terribly frustrated that I was taking so long, and they promised to “speed up” the process.

Back at Open Space

From there, they took me back to Open Space. Now, everyone was more comfortable — they were lying on blankets. Someone — evidently investigators, but I was lying down so I didn’t see — was going up to each person, one by one, and talking to them. They took down [each person’s] passport data and told them things like, “You’re idiots, you don’t understand anything, and you’re being paid to do this — and if they’re not paying you, you’re even bigger idiots.” Eventually, they would let the person go, telling them, “Forget this address, and don’t come back here.”

When there were only a few of us left, [the investigators] led me downstairs. There, we talked about life with the officers in masks, who told us, “We’re being reasonable with you, whereas if you were in a village somewhere, things would be bad for you; you have ‘cops,’ not ‘police.’ But in Moscow, things are good.” (Editor’s note: Some of the event attendees came to Moscow from other parts of Russia.)

mistreatment in prison

'The rules don't require it' Jailed protester Sasha Skochilenko has an autoimmune disease. Prison officials are ignoring her needs.

mistreatment in prison

'The rules don't require it' Jailed protester Sasha Skochilenko has an autoimmune disease. Prison officials are ignoring her needs.

It seemed like some other agency was working there, too, so it often felt like these investigators were waiting for something, like they themselves didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, and some unknown force was giving them commands. So for much of the time, they just sat and made small talk with you, because they were bored themselves. One agent played the piano.

When there were only eight or nine of us left, they took us all back upstairs and told us they were taking us to the police station. They’d hung a bulletin board up and decorated it with paper that had phrases like, “Ukraine is part of Russia,” “The Moscow police are the best,” [etc]. The letter Z was drawn on, too.

Beatings in the police van

When I made a comment about this [quietly], something about Ukraine, some creep in plainclothes and a mask showed up next to me and asked, “How do you feel about it?” Then, at some point, either because I’d stood the wrong way or said something wrong, the person who had hit me at the very beginning appeared and started haranguing me: “Quit fucking around,” “You’re a bitch and we’re going to rape you,” and generally that I’m a nobody and that they were going to [rape me] right now, and that there wouldn’t be any consequences.

He was the only one who was so intense. At some point, he pinned my arm behind my back and told me he was taking me to the police van. His colleagues tried to talk him out of it at first, but then, evidently, gave up — and he took me alone to the van. What a “pleasant” feeling it is to walk 30 meters down the street, knowing you’re about to get beaten.

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We got in the vehicle; I sat in the corner, and he got in after me. And right away: wham, bam. He hit me a couple times. He was insulting me all the while — stuff like, “Do you understand, faggot?” I tell him, “No, I don’t understand anything, I don’t understand why you’re beating me.” Apparently he was trying not to hit me in the face, so he took a second to think before each blow. That made it relatively easy for me to shield myself, but I did take a hit in the ribs. And now my rib hurts pretty badly, so after [Sasha Skochilenko’s] trial, I’m going to get it X-rayed.

That lasted, say, a minute, two minutes, five minutes. Then they brought out all the others. One of the speakers, Cassidy, is a transgender woman who’s in the process of transitioning: her documents still say she’s a man, but we were using feminine pronouns for her. The security officers were insulting her the whole evening: for her piercing, for her appearance, for her manicure. [The officer who beat me] let loose on her, too, and hit her. Then he started asking whether I know [the poet] Artem Kamardin, and said the same thing that happened to him was about to happen again [Editor’s note: Russian security officers raped Artem Kamardin with a dumbbell]. One of [the officer’s] buddies appeared, too, and said the same thing. We were later told that these were the same guys who tortured Kamardin; somebody recognized them.

When they brought [photographer] Sasha Astakhova in, she stood firmly between Cassidy and I and the cops, and that kept them from beating us any more.

The officers allege ‘slander’

They brought us to the police station. The people in masks sat down to write up our offense reports. I complained to the officers [there] that I’d been beaten, and a bit later, one of the masked guys came up to me and quietly asked what [the person who’d beaten me] had wanted. I said he hadn’t liked my blue hair, that he’d said I was a faggot and so on. The officer looked at me and said, “Well, I think that whether a person has blue hair is their personal business.” I wasn’t expecting it.

After that, they led the arrestees away one by one. But, strikingly, nobody took any interest in me. They didn’t do anything to me, other than the fine at the district council. I didn’t have to sign anywhere, and nobody talked to me. There was essentially no documentation of my arrest. They didn’t write anybody up, but they did take statements from everybody else.

Artem Kamardin’s case

‘It was impossible not to hear’ Poet Artem Kamardin was reportedly beaten and raped by Russian police. We spoke to his roommate.

Artem Kamardin’s case

‘It was impossible not to hear’ Poet Artem Kamardin was reportedly beaten and raped by Russian police. We spoke to his roommate.

I also know that while the officers were taking statements, they were talking about [Sasha Skochilenko’s book] The Book About Depression; they said the letter “D” on the cover really looks like an “R.” “It’s clearly the ‘Book About Repression.’ You knew what you were getting into,” they said.

They were also really angry that the media had reported that someone had been beaten at Open Space. That happened before they beat me; [the reports] concerned a boy [who was repeatedly hit in the head by police]. I didn’t see it myself. [The officers] had long discussions about the independent press and biased journalists, and they were upset about being “slandered.” Although the person, as far as I know, was bleeding. But they claimed he just fell down. Unfortunately, I don’t know all the details of that story.

I didn’t witness [the officers’ attempt to make the arrestees to sing “patriotic” songs], either. I only heard about the girls who started to sing Russian folk songs, and that the same officers who were complaining about the [independent] media got angry about this, too: now, [they said,] journalists would hear [the music] and would report that they were being forced to sing “patriotic” songs.

Translation by Sam Breazeale

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