Boris Vishnevsky: The Leading Role of the Truncheon

9 December 2020

By Boris Vishnevsky, deputy in the St Petersburg Legislative Assembly and recipient of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Новая газета]

The State Duma has allowed police officers to treat Russians however they want.

The State Duma has approved changes proposed by the government to the law “On the police” in their first reading. Novaya gazeta had previously reported on these changes in the spring.

The amendments listed on the Duma’s website, such as “strengthening of guarantees for the protection of rights and citizens’ legal interests, and improving the practical activities of police officers in the prevention, suppression and detection of crimes and other offences”, were supported by 294 deputies (almost all of them from United Russia) and opposed by 44 (members of the Communist Party and some from A Just Russia). The LDPR did not participate in the vote.

It’s worth noting that the Duma website is meekly silent about the law’s main new feature – or as I called it in the spring, a pre-written pardon for the police. There is not one word about the provision in Article 30 of the law which states that “a police officer is not subject to prosecution for actions committed in the performance of duties assigned to the police and in connection with exercising rights afforded to the police”.

This can be interpreted very simply – no matter what a policeman does to a civilian, he will face no repercussions for it. 

An officer is not responsible for anything done to a citizen. Not for beating a defenceless person, not for opening fire with lethal force if he thought there was a threat of an attack.

What other rights do the police now have?

Officers can conduct a personal search of a citizen, search their belongings and also search their means of transport if “there is reason to suspect” that the citizen is in possession of a weapon, ammunition, cartridges, explosive materials, explosive devices, narcotic substances, psychotropic substances and so on. Previously, in this paragraph of Article 13, there were the words “if data is available” in place of the selected incidences. That means some kind of data, meaning facts, were required for a search of a citizen or their car. Now any “grounds” defined by the policeman himself will suffice. 

Another reason for conducting a personal search on a citizen is if “there is reason to suspect that they are hiding stolen goods”. If a policeman has “reason to suspect” that you are “hiding” something that you have stolen from someone in your pocket – good afternoon, you’re being searched. And the “reasons” for it are not for you to know. 

The next innovation is no less dangerous from the point of view of violating citizens’ rights. 

It is being proposed to empower the police to conduct “inspections of premises, means of transport, objects, documents and other items with the aim of recording circumstances relevant to a decision on a statement or incident report… in connection with the verification of a statement or incident report registered in accordance with established procedure”.

A well-known procedure, including in St Petersburg, is when informers who are well known to political and civil activists successively pin false “allegations of crimes and offences” on them before or during a protest action. These allegations claim, for example, to quote a real allegation from an informer, that “a man in a jacket is standing at Gostiny Dvor and berating authorities”. 

These statements are immediately entered into the KUSP ([BRRC in English] again, an abbreviation well-known in St. Petersburg: the Book of Registration of Statements and Reports of Crimes and Administrative Offences). After that, the police detain and transport protesters, including lone picketers, to the police station, confiscate posters, and begin a deliberately pointless ‘inspection.’ After 3-4 hours, the person is released, and, as a rule, without charge, but the action has already been disrupted.

So, the adoption of this amendment to the law on police will mean that on the basis of another denunciation, as part of the notorious ‘KUSP check,’ the police will have the legal right to ‘inspect’ any premises, including residences, cars, and any ‘objects and documents.’ For allegedly ‘registering the circumstances relevant to the taking of a decision…’

During public rallies, the police are given the right to fence off public places (they already do this, but without any legal basis).

The police get the right to open cars ‘to ensure the safety of citizens or public safety in case of mass disorders and emergencies’ – and will not be held financially responsible for this.

Finally, it is proposed to supplement the police’s right to cordon or block off areas with a right to conduct searches within the cordon, to conduct ‘personal inspections of citizens and the things (objects, machinery, substances) in their possession, to inspect vehicles and transported goods.’ That is, again, to search everything and everyone.

So, contrary to what was announced, the law does not contain any enhanced ‘guarantees of protection of the rights and interests of citizens.’

There is only further uncontrolled expansion of the powers of the police, presented as ‘improvement of their practical activity.’

And guaranteed total impunity for police officers for any violence against citizens.

As an appetizer, in November Rosgvardia director Viktor Zolotov approved a badge in the form of a silver-coloured oval, 75×60 mm, which will carry a number that will allow the badge to be identified. It is unlikely that anyone – especially during public rallies – will get a good look at these numbers. Just as it is hard enough to read them on police badges sufficiently to be able to identify them in case of blatant violence against citizens.

This is a profanity: ensuring the ‘de-anonymisation of security forces’, necessary to ensure that anyone who beats up a peaceful citizen knows that they can be found and punished, cannot be solved by using ‘micro-tags.’

But the draft bill, which was prepared (with my participation, among others) and submitted to the Duma by Senator Vladimir Lukin, to require the police and Rosgvardiya personnel to wear clearly visible identification numbers on their uniforms or equipment when on duty in public places, has never been passed.

And, in general, it is understandable why.

Translated by Elizabeth Rushton and Simon Cosgrove

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