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Courts Take Unduly Soft Line Toward Police Violence - Media


The rate of crimes by police in Russia keeps growing. Beatings and tortures of detainees and corruption are an everyday occurrence. Even the Interior Ministry has had to ring the alarm bell. However, the judiciary, who mercilessly punish ordinary mortals, quite often to turn a blind eye on those in police uniform and other representatives of the state in general, the media say.

Over the past week a dozen police have been convicted in different regions of Russia for abusing their powers - mostly for brutal treatment of detainees. Human rights activists say with alarm that while the struggle against corruption by the state has been stepped up, the courts are still pretty lax as far as abuse by police is concerned. By the twisted logic of our judiciary, says the daily Noviye Izvestia, some police in their effort to fight crime "overdo it a just a little bit."

Here is a chronicle of the past week's events.

A court in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky sentenced three police to four years each in a standard security jail for torturing detainees. Four police in Yakutsk got five to six years in a standard security prison for beating people. Police in Kalinigrad were given three years in jail each for beating a detainee. And two members of the police patrol service in Chernogorsk were sentenced to 4.5 years for beating up a teenager. However, they will remain free, because the sentence was suspended.

"As far as the use of torture and violence are concerned, although the Criminal Code envisages a punishment of up to ten years behind bars for this type of offence, the servants of the state as a rule get suspended terms," the daily quotes the chairman of the inter-regional human rights association AGORA, Pavel Chikov, as saying. "This is standard Russian practice. A three-four-year suspended term is most frequent, while five-year ones are more rare."

Bearng in mid that the Russian judiciary have an explicit pro-conviction bias, this type of sentence looks like an acquittal.

The expert says beatings may entail a real prison term only in case of the victim's death or grave harm to health.

The mayor of Kizel, the Perm Territory, convicted of beating a woman driver, was fined 10,000 rubles and given a suspended six-month prison term. A traffic police in Karelia got away with a suspended sentence for beating a 20-year-old biker. First he chased the biker who had violated traffic rules and then, after succeeding to stop him, he punched and kicked him several times.

In practice, courts are far more often loyal to 'one of their number' than to an 'alien', although, as human rights activist Valery Borshchev says, Russian legislation establishes a rather harsh punishment for abuse of office.

"The law allows for bringing police to justice for torture," says Borshchev. "But such cases are often played down, and the culprits get insignificant punishment or no punishment at all. In the meantime, all these violations keep growing in a geometric progression."

Chikov says that probably the sole article that constitutes a real threat to civil servants is that concerning corruption, which may incur a real prison term.

"Prison terms get longer," he said. "Apparently, in the context of the general political campaign against corruption."

Police most often choose to beat up drunk passers-by and teenagers, the Yuri Levada Analytical Center has found. As many as 73 percent of the polled doctors and nurses of the ambulance service and first aid centers told the pollster, the problem of violence by police against detainees is a very serious one.

Police tend to use violence and brutal treatment during detention (61 percent of the polled mentioned this); 34 percent say that people may be beaten up without any apparent reason, for pleasure, for the sake of demonstrating power, and 16 percent claim that police use violence to worm out the testimonies they need.

According to the available statistics, the law enforcement are far ahead of the other corruption-prone bodies of power. In 2008 3,329 police were punished for bribes, in contrast to 433 employees in the health service and 378 in education. According to police, 2,516 crimes committed by police and federal migration service personnel have been identified in January-July, including 1,600 cases of abuse of office.

The latest high-profile case of wrongdoing by a police officer was the indiscriminate shootout in a supermarket in southern Moscow. On April 27 the chief of a police station, Denis Yevsyukov, opened fire on customers and personnel at a supermarket, killing two and injuring seven.

The chiefs of the law enforcement can no longer pretend nothing is happening.

Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev urged more active preventive measures against potential crimes by police at the early stage.

He issued the call at a conference devoted to internal security measures in the police and federal migration forces and ways of strengthening the legality of police in performing their duties.

According to Nurgaliyev, cases of abuse in the first half of this year were exposed even at the ministry's head office.

With the aim to tighten the responsibility of police officials the Interior Minister made a decision to introduce the rule requiring any police official can be appointed on the condition the superiors agree to provide personal guarantees.

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