MOSCOW -- After Minsk police were caught on video dragging a 41-year-old blind man down a set of subway stairs, residents of the Belarusian capital are pushing back.
Within hours of the September 18 incident, an online petition was launched on Change.org calling for the prosecution or dismissal of the officers who "assaulted a blind man."
An accompanying one-minute YouTube video shows police jostling the man as passersby protest his treatment. The camera follows as one policeman drags the man down the stairs, violently banging his head on a metal railing in the process. The incident leaves the blind man clutching his head as at least one onlooker engages in a heated shoving match with the officer:
By September 21, the petition had attracted more than 6,800 signatures.
Others among the outraged crowd who witnessed the incident at the Uruchye subway station in Minsk shout at the police officers in anger.
Police were initially called to the scene after receiving "complaints from citizens of begging" by a man of "unkempt appearance" and have opened a criminal case against the man for "resisting police," according to an official statement. The man "displayed wanton aggression" and "swore, insulted, and threatened" the policemen, the statement adds.
But local residents have leaped to his defense, saying he did nothing wrong and was simply minding his own business.
"The people who live there know that this man is at the metro station practically every day. They know him and they help him," wrote Kirill Kavganav, who claims to have shot the video, in a social network post quoted by RFE/RL's Belarus Service.
He went on to describe what set off the the incident in his VKontakte post:
"Two police officers walked up to him and started to pick on him without explanation, and he, not understanding what was going on, retaliated and scratched the arm of a police officer, and they started to suddenly pick him up and use force against him!"
Kavganav wrote that, despite the astonishment of onlookers, the police "continued to drag him and then, in front of everyone, dragged him down the stairs." After the man hit his head on the base of the handrail, the police handcuffed him "like a criminal and behaved as if he were an animal, rather than a person!"
The police have argued that the officers in question acted within the law.
"The man refused to obey the lawful demands of a police officer," Komsomolskaya Pravda quoted an investigative committee as saying. "Showing groundless aggression, he began cursing at the policeman, insulting and making threats."
Following his arrest, law enforcement authorities said that the incarcerated blind man became violent at the police station.
They claimed the man bit a police officer’s arm, hit one of them in the face, tried to kick them, and also defaced their uniforms.
They said that the 41-year-old has previously served time on various charges, including for hooliganism.