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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Russian Police Begin Torture Tactics

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Russian police are now engaging in torture in order to intimidate and crush the Kremlin's ideological foes. Welcome to the Neo-Soviet Union!

Several members of Eduard Limonov’s National Bolshevik Party, who had been arrested on April 27 for disrupting the festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the State Russian Duma, say they were tortured by the police and a City Hall official.

While the city prosecutor’s office is investigating the incident, the St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly has supported an appeal prepared by lawmaker Sergei Gulyayev asking Governor Valentina Matviyenko to comment on the matter.

“They ripped my clothes off except for my underpants, put a bag over my head to suffocate me, pressed my eyes and beat me,” said National Bolshevik member Sergei Chekunov, one of the protesters detained by the police.

“The beatings were professional: the pain was excruciating but the kicks left very few marks,” Chekunov said.

After their release the protesters went to a state-run first aid clinic to have their injuries documented.

When the State Duma legislators approached the Tavrichesky Palace to celebrate the 100th anniversary of parliamentarism in Russia on April 27, they were confronted by a group of National Bolsheviks. Gathered around the palace, the protestors held posters that read “This Duma is a shame on Russia” and “The worst parliament in the history of Russia”, and called for the resignation of Russia’s leaders.

Between 1906 and 1917 the palace hosted the first four sessions of Russia’s Duma.

A group of National Bolsheviks also gathered on the roof of a nearby building holding posters and yelling out slogans. Four activists, who chained themselves to the fence that surrounds the Tavrichesky Palace were detained and taken to Police Station No. 76.

An official statement posted on the National Bolshevik Party website said pressure was put on the activists by Sergei Barkan, an official with City Hall’s Committee For Youth Affairs, and the police, who wanted Chekunov and his comrades to give them the names of the organizers of the protest.

As yet, Smolny has not commented on the allegations.

Andrei Milyuk, another National Bolshevik activist detained during the incident, said the police not only tortured the detainees physically but also sought to humiliate them.

Gulyayev’s appeal to Matviyenko, supported by the Legislative Assembly last Thursday, asks the governor “to assess Sergei Barkan’s actions and determine whether these actions are compatible with his status as a civil servant and an official with the St. Petersburg administration.”

Yuly Rybakov, a prominent human rights advocate and formerly a member of the State Russian Duma, described the appeal as one-sided.

“The appeal seems to have been sent primarily because the incident involves an administrative official, as if police torture has become so commonplace that it hardly shocks anymore, as if society is resigned to it,” Rybakov said on Monday in a telephone interview.

Rybakov is the author of a proposed amendment to Russia’s Criminal Code in 2002 that suggested a stiffening of sentences for any official caught using torture or physical abuse, with sentences of up to 20 years.

The Duma supported the amendment during its first reading but the process then stalled and it was not passed.

“After the parliament overwhelmingly supported the amendment, the Interior Affairs Ministry and the Prosecutor’s Office went mad and used all their influence to shut down this initiative,” Rybakov said. “And no wonder they expressed such concern: beating and torture have long been their preferred — if not their only — method to get confessions, evidence or moral submission,” Rybakov said.

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