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Handling Of 'YouTube Cop' Case Raises Questions About Russian Police Reform

Aleksei Dymovsky: "I was simply trying to understand the authorities' reaction, whether or not they were listening to me."
The opening day of hearings was held today in the case of Russian police whistle-blower Aleksei Dymovsky, just three days after his arrest on charges of fraud and abuse of office.

The former police officer gained nationwide attention in November when he posted a clip on the video-sharing website YouTube denouncing rampant police corruption in his hometown of Novorossiisk.

The unprecedented video -- which triggered several other similar appeals by former law-enforcement officers -- riled authorities, who critics say are now scrambling to silence the unruly cop.

Dymovsky was arrested on January 22, shortly after Novorossiisk investigators presented evidence in court they said showed Dymovsky should be tried for fraud and abuse of office.

'Were They Listening?'

Speaking to RFE/RL's Russian Service shortly after the court hearing on January 22, Dymovsky said he expected to be arrested imminently, predicting it would be linked to a recent telephone conversation with a member of the investigative team.

"In an attempt to figure out whether or not they were really listening to me, I said that if there was an unlawful investigation and if I was unlawfully convicted, that I would take revenge on the investigator and the judge," Dymovsky says.

Dymovsky violated the corporate rules of the game by making his grievances public. He set the system against himself.
"I didn't say it with the actual intention to really take revenge. I was simply trying to understand the authorities' reaction, whether or not they were listening to me."

He is reportedly accused of using his position as a police officer to embezzle some $800 over a four-year period. Investigators have also dismissed his YouTube allegations as baseless.

Dymovsky, who faces up to 10 years in prison if found guilty, denies wrongdoing and denounces the case against him as political.

The former policeman remains an shadowy figure and doubts linger about his true motives for posting the now-famous video on YouTube. Many Russians say Dymovsky is not in a position to denounce police abuse, having himself admitted to unlawful practices during his stint in the police.

But right campaigners have sided with Dymovsky, regardless of his past. They say authorities are unfairly punishing him for speaking up about police abuse while turning a blind eye to more serious crimes committed by police, including murder. They cite the case of Denis Yevsyukov, a Moscow police officer who killed three people and wounded six more in a shooting rampage at a supermarket in April.

The lawyer representing the supermarket victims says Yevsyukov is enjoying preferential treatment in detention, and rights group fear his allies within law-enforcement agencies will ensure he gets a lenient sentence.

'Violated The Corporate Rules'

Russian political analyst Nikolai Petrov says the cases against Yevsyukov and Dymovsky, although both officially part of a campaign to crack down on police abuse, are fundamentally different.

"[Yevsyukov] plays according to the rules of the game and doesn't breach the norms of corporate behavior. What he did was an offense that the corporation is ready to forgive, by justifying it as a nervous breakdown," Petrov says. "Dymovsky violated the corporate rules of the game by making his grievances public. He set the system against himself."

Critics say the legal assault against Dymovsky raises doubts about the ambitious reform program announced by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in December in response to police abuses that have angered Russians.

But Aleksandr Cherkasov, who co-chairs the Memorial human rights group, says ordinary Russians are also to blame for Dymovsky's legal woes. It is precisely the lack of public solidarity for the embattled former policeman, he says, that is allowing authorities to shift the blame for police corruption on Dymovsky.

"Of course, his superiors don't approve of his betrayal. But there has been a strange reaction. Society doesn't approve of it either, on the grounds that he has no right to talk about [police abuse] since he's had a part in it," Cherkasov says.

"Are we all angels? To a certain extent, we are all responsible for our government's actions."

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