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Photo of the "Pearl Ensign" during a protest in St. Petersburg in July 2010.
ST. PETERSBURG -- A Russian policeman has gone on trial charged with abusing demonstrators in St. Petersburg last summer, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Vadim Boiko became known in Russia as the "Pearl Ensign" after a video of a violent police action during a July 31 protest was posted online and showed an officer wearing a white-pearl bracelet. The video showed the officer, later identified as Boiko, insulting and beating demonstrators and dragging them by the hair.

The court today declined a request by Boiko's lawyer to send the case back to the St. Petersburg prosecutor's office for additional investigation, but agreed to ban online video coverage of the trial. The judge scheduled the next court session for February 24.

Boiko, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of abusing his authority as a police officer, could face 10 years in prison if found guilty. He was fired from his job and ordered not to leave St. Petersburg until the trial ends.

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Marat Mamadshoev
DUSHANBE -- A court in Dushanbe has begun hearing a lawsuit by a regional Interior Ministry official against the opposition weekly "Asia Plus," but threw out a counterclaim filed by the paper against the same official, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.

Both cases concern an article published by "Asia Plus" on December 21 that accused Interior Ministry officials, including officers of the directorate against organized crimes in Sughd Province, of torturing suspects.

Anvar Taghoymurodov, head of that directorate, is demanding 1 million somonis ($227,128) in damages.

"Asia Plus" chief editor Marat Mamadshoev filed a counterclaim against Taghoymurodov for 150,000 somonis in damages. He told RFE/RL that Taghoymurodov's suit could damage the weekly's reputation.

Nusratullo Asadullo, the presiding judge at Dushanbe's Firdawsi district court, said Mamadshoev failed to produce any official documentation to prove he is empowered to take legal action on behalf of "Asia Plus."

Taghoymurodov's lawyer, Jamshed Ghiyosos, said Umed Babakhanov, the owner of "Asia Plus," should appear in court to defend the paper's reputation. Babakhanov is currently resident in the United States, where his children are studying.

The next hearing is scheduled for February 24. Lawyer Shuhrat Qudratov, representing "Asia Plus," said he is sure that at the next session the court will agree to hear the paper's claim.

Tajik experts say this is the first time a court is hearing a case related to torture and violence against suspects. "Asia Plus" says it has written evidence to substantiate its accusations. But experts said that no court has ever given credence to such accusations.

Nargis Zokirova, an expert from the Human Rights Organization of Tajikistan, said it is difficult to speak about torture because it is almost impossible to inspect detention centers and prisons. She added that the authorities do not permit any domestic or international human rights organizations to visit suspects in detention centers.

Tajik experts say that all previous proven cases of torture were reclassified as abuse of power, and suspected torturers were tried for abuse of power, not for torture.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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