Lev Ponomarev: How I was recently detained and beaten by people in masks

16 March 2020

Lev Ponomarev, chair of the national NGO For Human Rights and a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]

An experiment on myself to see ‘how the charges in the Moscow case were created.’

I’m grateful to everyone who supported me during my arrest on 14 March 2020 in my struggle against violations of the law; to everyone who spoke out in my defence, phoned me and expressed concern about my well-being. 

As a matter of fact, I put myself in the same situation as those young people who were beaten and detained en masse, some of whom were subsequently jailed.

Please find the time to read this.

This is essential in order that in future the police and other law enforcement agencies do not permit provocative and illegal actions, as a result of which we see fabricated criminal cases and new political prisoners. That is exactly the way criminal cases about ‘glasses thrown and contact with a police officer’ come about. 

The source of these events turned out to be the illegal actions of the authorities in breaking up single-person pickets outside the FSB headquarters on 14 March 2020.

The events developed in the following manner:

Earlier, various organisations had adopted a joint decision to hold a series of single-person pickets on 14 March 2020 from 14:00 outside the headquarters of the FSB on Lubyanka Square, with placards displaying human rights and political demands. 

The organisers did not hide that, if enough people came to take part in the single-person pickets, they planned afterwards to peacefully encircle the FSB building with a human chain, without slogans or placards, and to stand there symbolically for a certain time. This was also already known to law enforcement.

In point of fact, the decision to hold the single-person pickets was taken after the refusal of the Moscow authorities to permit a small-scale demonstration in central Moscow. The notification of the planned event was submitted to various official instances. The refusal to allow the demonstration in central Moscow was unlawful. The authorities proposed the demonstration be held on the outskirts of Moscow, but the organisers refused. 

Below I shall underscore violations of the law by the authorities and stress the negative consequences of the interactions between law enforcement agencies and the public:

The first violation of the law by the authorities was the absolutely unlawful refusal to permit a small-scale demonstration that clearly could not have hindered the functioning of any city services, including a failure to provide a written refusal, something intended to deprive the organisers of the ability to immediately appeal against the decision in the courts..

Subsequent violations occurred in my presence, including in relation to my own person.

I approached the FSB building at 14:05. Police officers, with the help of a megaphone, were announcing the protest did not have official permission.

They illegally arrested all those who stood first in the solitary picket.

Having seen all this, I approached police colonel A. A. Makhonin, who was in charge of the security forces, and asked him why he was breaking the law, and demanded he stop this violation. Colonel A. A. Makhonin told me personally that I was allegedly participating in an unsanctioned protest and ordered me to be detained. I refused to get into the van voluntarily. Then several people in masks, without any kind of identification markings grabbed me by the arms and led me, dragged me with force, towards the van. Then they ordered me to stand in front of the van and spread my arms and legs. I refused. They once again used force against me and dragged me into the van. They did the same thing to the rest.

None of the people carrying out detentions and using physical force identified themselves, or wore any identification on their lapels. They wore masks that hid their faces and made it impossible to identify them.

At the time of my arrest, they used methods which the security forces use in the detention of potential terrorists, from whom they expect violent resistance. But in this situation, they were using these methods against a peaceful citizen.

Around 15.05 we were brought to the Tagansky district police station but we were not taken inside the building, and instead were left in an outside waiting area and several masked people guarded us.

After some time, a man in a mask came up to us and demanded all the detainees gave up their phones. Everyone refused, explaining it was illegal. He then stated that everyone would be brought in under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Law Code for the offence of disobeying the legal demand of a police officer.

A while later, officers in masks demanded that all the detainees hand over their passports, including mine. I said I was prepared to provide my documents only in the presence of my lawyer, who had already been in the Tagansky police station for several hours but had not been allowed to see me. Along with him, there were several other lawyers that had come to see other detainees, knowing their names and surnames, and ready to defend them, but had not been allowed. They were prevented from entering the police station. I then discovered that the lawyers were not being permitted through on the orders of the head of the department, S. A. Fedotov.

After this, the masked men ordered the detainees to go through to the station one at a time, without their lawyers. But, fearing for our personal safety, we refused to go in one at a time, but only with our lawyers.

Then the masked people began to use force. Two men grabbed me and another detainee roughly and dragged us 20-30 metres inside the station. Thus, I came to in a corridor, with a grazed bruise under my eye and heard the cries of the other detainee, a young man, who had been dragged in along with me. As I discovered later, he was beaten several times. 

After a while, I was approached by officials from the Tagansky police department. They had removed their balaclavas and their faces were visible. They suggested I go to a corridor on the 3rd floor of the building, saying there was a lawyer waiting for me there. There was no lawyer there. A lawyer showed up about 30 minutes later, but lawyers were still not allowed to see all the other detainees.

During that time, I managed to make several calls to A.V. Babushkin, a member of the Human Rights Council, who came to the police station with Marina Litvinovich and Lyubov Volkova, also members of the Human Rights Council, and city Duma deputy Mikhail Timonov. Despite lawful requests from the lawyers, access to the detainees was once again denied.

I left the police station in an ambulance that colleagues had unexpectedly called for me, so I didn’t see what happened afterwards and I don’t know what other violations took place. But I do know that Irina Yatsenko was illegally held at the police station overnight because she allegedly did not present her passport on the request of a police officer, although she did not actually have her passport with her.

It is after such acts of provocation by law enforcement officers that criminal cases are then fabricated against people detained on administrative charges, as shown in the so-called ‘Moscow Case’.

Let me briefly list the violations on the part of the authorities once more:

1. A small protest in the centre of Moscow was not approved by the authorities.

2. A perfectly legal single-person picket that did not require approval was called an illegal action, and everyone in front of the FSB building was arrested.

The person holding the picket was arrested, as well as people who had nothing to do with it, including journalists and ordinary passers-by.

3. During the arrest, police officers did not present their credentials, wore masks, weren’t wearing badges, and could not be identified.

4. The people in masks did not explain why I was being detained and, when I refused to go with him, they used physical force against me and the other detainees, exceeding their authority.

5. Colonel A.A. Makhonin supervised the illegal detention. I think he should also be held responsible for the abuse of authority.

6. After we were released from the police van, we were held for nearly two hours in the waiting area of the Tagansky police station guarded by people in masks. These same people demanded that we hand over our mobile phones, threatening to charge us under Article 19.3 of the Administrative Code (‘failure to follow the lawful orders of a police officer’).

7. At the Tagansky Department of Internal Affairs, lawyers were prevented from seeing the detainees for several hours.

8. When I refused to accompany one of the masked men alone, without a lawyer present, physical force was used against me, causing damage to my health.

Thank you for reading to the end.

Why did I write it?

I wrote it so that everyone who reads it will be able to put themselves in my place and in the place of everyone, usually young people, who has fallen and is falling under the steamroller of abusive law enforcement officers, whose power allows them to do anything for the sake of their own preservation and gives them immunity and complete impunity.

The main objective, not just of human rights defenders, but of civil society as a whole, is to stop this lawlessness!

I hope we succeed.

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson, Nicky Brown and Simon Cosgrove

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