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Russia’s Bloggers Stand Up To The Police

Aleksei Shumm (photo illustration)
Aleksei Shumm (photo illustration)
On May 21, a Moscow resident named Aleksei Shumm posted a notice on his Livejournal page saying that his pregnant wife had been struck and killed by a Subaru Forester while crossing Ysenevoi Avenue on May 13.

The day of the accident, several news agencies picked up the story and cited information from the southern Moscow district traffic police as saying that material from the scene had been collected and passed on to investigators.

That was the last Shumm heard about the matter until, nine days after his wife’s death, he learned that no case had been filed against the driver, who has been identified as a police officer. That’s when he decided to appeal to the Livejournal community.

At this point, I should add that by Livejournal standards, Shumm’s blog is practically brand new. He started it just last year and has only accumulated three “friends.” But these facts did not prevent his post about his wife’s death from becoming a hot topic on the social-networking site in less than one day. It wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration to say that his message was crossposted so many times that virtually every person using the site had the opportunity to read it.

My own RSS aggregator, which collects posts from the bloggers I find most interesting, linked me back to Shumm’s post maybe 20 or 30 times. Since it appeared, the post has accumulated more than 800 reader comments. The initial reaction was that Shumm should write a message about the hang-ups in the case on the Livejournal blog of President Dmitry Medvedev. Users noted the harsh moderation policies of the president’s blog but nonetheless concluded that it was worth a try. And shortly thereafter comments about the accident began appearing on the president's page.

It looks like the moderators were merciful.

'Scum Have To Be Liquidated'

You see two main types of reactions in the comments to Shumm’s post: One amounts to calls to take the law into his own hands and the second advocates giving the matter the maximum publicity and doing everything possible within the framework of the law.

It didn’t take long for all this noise to have some effect.
Here are a couple of comments in the spirit of the first reaction: “But I think that such scum have to be liquidated. Don’t bother going through procedures.” “Since his stuff seems to matter more to him than another person’s life, the least that should be done would be to gang up and strike hard at his stuff. The door to his apartment. His windows. And this has to be done every time he does even a little something to repair them. Nine days have passed and this [expletive] in a blue cap is still out there – amazing! I hope that Aleksei will widely publicize the address of this jerk. And his telephone number too. We can easily make life hell for him.” “In such cases, lynching doesn’t seem unreasonable.”

The comment that stirred up the greatest reaction was posted by a user named dictator of rus, who wrote: “We need to launch a citywide partisan war. We need to punish ministers, cops, bankers, the rich. We need to blow up government buildings, banks, police stations. We need to release prisoners and carry out diversions of all sorts. We must destroy this regime!”

Most respondents to this tirade patiently explained the need to remain within the law in combating police corruption. Many denounced dictator of rus as a provocateur.

But it didn’t take long for all this noise to have some effect.

One day later, on May 22, the state RIA Novosti news agency reported the following: “Police have detained a police officer who is suspected of having struck a pregnant woman on May 13 as she was crossing a street in southern Moscow, after which she died. The detained man is a police officer but not an employ of the Moscow police, a source said.”

Officials refused, however, to release his name, rank, or place of employment.

Not Limited To Livejournal

Aleksei Shumm, however, did not limit himself to just publicizing the matter through Livejournal. Several leading newspapers also picked up on his post. Many respondents offered him practical advice as well. Bloggers sent him to the site, where one can find a detailed and accessible outline of the procedures available to people who are fighting for their rights. The site gives examples of various forms of appeal and explains the rights of citizens and the legal obligations of the authorities.

Shumm was also directed to an NGO called Public Verdict, which defends people who have been abused by law enforcement officials. In a new Livejournal post on May 23, Shumm reported that he has been in contact with this NGO.

Most of the responses to Shumm’s post emphasized the need to wage a stubborn, but legal campaign to insist up on his rights.

“I used to work in law enforcement myself,” one commentator wrote. “They don’t like complainers there, but as far as I understand you don’t give a damn if they love you or not. But the important thing is to remember that police and prosecutors are ‘proud birds’ – as the saying goes, ‘if you don’t kick them, they won’t fly.’ In order to get some result, you have to go through the processes. And you’ll have a chance. I know of cases when police officers got away with murder – but I also know of two officers who served prison terms for beating drunks.”

Shumm himself seems defiant. He has no intention of striking a deal with anyone who has broken the law, he has said in the media. Nonetheless, comments like this one continue to appear on his page: “Aleksei, please accept my sympathy. You can make a lot of noise through the media, of course, but while this is happening, the cop might simply quietly disappear or the case will fizzle out. In this case we need more aggressive action than just stories in the press. Contact me, please.”

Olga Serebryanaya is a commentator for RFE/RL’s Russian Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL.