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A Russian Lawyer Said She Filmed Police Abuse. Then She Was Found Dead.


Outside the Investigative Committee headquarters in Usolye-Sibirskoye (file photo)

Human rights lawyer Galina Muzyka was found dead in her apartment in the Siberian city of Usolye-Sibirskoye late on March 2 under what fellow activist and regional public oversight commission member Pavel Glushchenko described as "strange circumstances," one day after she is thought to have made a cell phone video allegedly showing nine Investigative Committee employees beating a detained suspect.

The chain of events leading up to that somber discovery began on a local road on the night of February 28. Mikhail Zagvozdin was driving together with his 18-month-old son when he approached an intersection too quickly and nearly rear-ended the car in front of him, his wife, Yulya Zagvozdina, told RFE/RL on March 1.

The driver of the other vehicle got out and tried to hit him through the window that Zagvozdin had opened to speak with the man. Zagvozdin said he did not want to get out of the car with his son in it. When the man allegedly reached in and tried to grab his keys, Zagvozdin began to drive off.

He was bleeding, and I could see how they were punching him in the kidneys.... My pleading that our children...were watching was ignored. My son still thinks that 'they murdered papa.'"
-- Yulya Zagvozdina

"He closed the window and slowly drove off, while the other man held onto the window," Zagvozdina said. "For several meters, he ran alongside the car."

Zagvozdin returned home and thought it was the end of the story -- until early the next morning when law enforcement officers began pounding on the door to his apartment and threatening to break it down.

"They said they were police, and seven men in plainclothes rushed in, as well as one investigator [from the local branch of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor-General's Office]," Zagvozdina said. "They immediately went for my husband, pushed him up against the wall and demanded that he sign a paper authorizing them to conduct a search. My husband refused to sign anything without reading it, so they immediately began beating him.

"He was bleeding, and I could see how they were punching him in the kidneys..." she continued. "My pleading that our children -- one 18 months and one 4 years old -- were watching was ignored. My son still thinks that 'they murdered papa.'"

The officers took Zagvozdin away without saying where or leaving any documentation. Zagvozdina said they also took her telephone, her husband's telephone, and various other things after overturning furniture and generally ransacking the apartment. Although they ordered her not to call anyone, she immediately borrowed a neighbor's phone and called around to human rights groups. They helped her find a reputable defense lawyer, Galina Muzyka.

Usolye-Sibirskoye
Usolye-Sibirskoye

Later the same day, Muzyka went to the remand prison of the Investigative Committee to find out Zagvozdin's fate. Local rights activist Glushchenko told RFE/RL he spoke with Zagvozdin, who told him that investigators were beating him a second time.

"They were beating Misha in a room at the Usolye Investigative Committee," Glushchenko said. "He was surrounded by nine men, including one investigator in uniform. At that moment, he heard Galina shouting through the open door: 'What are you doing?' He saw that she was filming it with her mobile phone. That was Friday, March 1."

It was the last time Muzyka was seen alive.

On March 2, Muzyka was supposed to meet with human rights advocates to brief them on the case, but she never showed up. Zagvozdina reported her missing.

The cause of death was most likely not criminal. It is not a matter for us. If something is uncovered, then we will investigate."
-- Investigative Committee head Karina Golobachyova

Late that evening, Muzyka was found dead in her apartment.

"There was no video of the beating on her phone or other devices," Glushchenko said.

According to police, Muzyka was surrounded by open packets of medicine. Her phone had dialed the emergency number for an ambulance. The door was locked from the inside.

"The cause of death was most likely not criminal," local Investigative Committee head Karina Golobachyova told RFE/RL. "It is not a matter for us. If something is uncovered, then we will investigate."

Officials preliminarily said the cause of death was a heart condition.

It turned out that the other man involved in the traffic incident with Zagvozdin was a local police officer who has not been identified but who alleged that Zagvozdin ran him down and drove for nearly a kilometer with him on the car's hood.

On March 5, Zagvozdin was officially charged with "exerting violence against a public official." He was placed under house arrest pending trial.

The Mediazona human rights website reported that the Investigative Committee denies Zagvozdin was mistreated, adding that he resisted arrest, which was carried out by a police rapid-reaction team (SOBR).

Zagvozdin has filed a complaint with the Irkutsk Oblast human rights ombudsman alleging police abuse and torture. The ombudsman requested that investigators order a medical examination of Zagvozdin and an autopsy of Muzyka by regional, rather than local, medical officials.

Local rights activists have posted online their understanding of the Zagvozdin case and photographs showing the extent of his injuries.

Muzyka's family has been silent on the matter. Her son, Aleksei Muzyka, did not respond to RFE/RL's request for comment.

"The city is outraged," activist Glushchenko wrote on Facebook on March 3. "The appropriate response now by law enforcement organs would be to send an independent investigative group to finally look into the incidents of torture in Usolye-Sibirskoye and into those who are protecting this group of werewolves."

Written by RFE/RL senior correspondent Robert Coalson based on reporting by the Siberia Desk of RFE/RL's Russian Service
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