Don't Ask A Cop
For Help In St. Petersburg
SAINT PETERSBURG, Nov 9 (AFP) - In Saint Petersburg, never ask a policeman: you could have your cash and papers stolen, be beaten and tortured and end up in hospital.
Konstantin Zhuravlev, a 31-year-old medical doctor, ended up in hospital in a serious condition after spending a few hours at the police station where officers said they wanted to check his identity papers.
"I was on my way home when two policemen asked to see my papers. As soon as they saw I had 3,500 roubles (about 140 dollars) on me they took me to the police station.
"There, one of them put the money in his pocket. I asked for it back, then they began to hit me.
"After beating me for several hours, they made me sign a paper saying I had no complaints against the police and then threw me out, pennyless and without identity papers," said Zhuravlev.
Boris Gaidar, a surgeon and teacher at the Military Medical Academy, said this sort of case was frequent in Saint Petersburg.
"Cases of head injuries inflicted in police stations are frequent in our clinic, especially during the night shift," he said.
"If people try to defend themselves against the police, they end up in hospital," said Maxim, a 37-year-old journalist who also was molested during a short stay in one of the city's police stations.
Some 360 cases of law-breaking by the police have been registered here so far this year, official figures say, but there have been only 83 prosecutions.
Rapes are regularly reported, usually of prostitutes taken to the police stations, later to be released.
Police misbehaviour is also frequent in the rest of Russia. Deputy Interior Minister Valery Fiodorov at the end of October quoted an opinion poll of 80,000 people as saying that only 42 percent of Russians trusted the police, notably because of their brutal methods.
Alexander Kulikov, who heads a police internal disciplinary body, says it is very difficult to provide proof of offences by police. "There are no witnesses to thefts or beatings," he said.
But the newspapers frequently report excesses. The daily Petersburg Express recently said that two policemen had been arrested on suspicion of killing a homeless person.
The same newspaper said one of the city's municipal councillors, Vladimir Belozerskikh, was recently beaten up after being arrested for "insolence".
"If you have been drinking, even moderately, the police are free to do what they like," said Alexander Rezunov, a 39-year-old shopkeeper.
The most frequent motive for police misbehaviour is venality in a profession where the average pay is around 1,000 rubles (40 dollars) a month.
Natasha, a young woman from Saint Petersburg, recently lost a boy-friend after he was beaten to death during a night in a police station. "I am more frightened of the police than the criminals," she said.