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Video Implicates Tatarstan Police In New Torture Scandal

A still from a video circulating that is thought to be of police abusing prisoner Pavel Drozdov, who died in police custody in February.
A still from a video circulating that is thought to be of police abusing prisoner Pavel Drozdov, who died in police custody in February.
Investigators in the Russian republic of Tatarstan say they are probing a video purportedly showing a man being tortured to death in a police station.

The video, obtained and released by a local rights group, is the latest torture scandal to hit republican law-enforcement authorities.

It shows a man sitting alone in a narrow cell. Several men then enter and pin him face-down onto the floor, handcuff his hands behind his back, bind his ankles and tie them to the handcuffs.

The group exits the cell, leaving the man in this agonizing position.

When the men later return, they unbind their victim and flip his limp body onto its back. The man does not rise again.

The footage purportedly shows how police officers tortured Pavel Drozdov to death at a police station in Kazan, Tatarstan's capital, in February.

Recorded by surveillance cameras and posted online by a local rights group, the footage contradicts the version put forward by investigators probing Drozdov's death according to which the 45-year-old died of disease while in custody.

Inclined To Investigate?

Tatar authorities, rocked by an earlier torture scandal in which a man died after being beaten and raped by police, were quick to promise a new investigation.

"The investigative authorities are conducting an additional investigation of the videotape published on the Internet showing policemen's actions against a detained man," Elvira Gazizova, a spokeswoman for the regional Investigative Committee, says.

Police say Drozdov, the deputy director of a local railroad technical school and a father of four, was detained after a drunken brawl in a bar.

According to the official autopsy, he died of acute pancreatic inflammation.

Relatives, however, say his body was covered in bruises and his wrists bore traces of handcuffs.

Their demands for a criminal case to be opened, however, were denied.

The Kazan Human Rights Center, the group that posted the video on YouTube after obtaining it from investigators, say the footage was never attached to the case although investigators had been in its possession for months.

"When the Investigative Committee says it will investigate the videotape published on the Internet, it is simply hypocrisy," Bulat Mukhamedzhanov, a spokesman for the Kazan Human Rights Center, says. "The investigators and the police have had this tape at their disposal because it was made on security video cameras inside the police station."

'Common' Scenario

Tatar police have been under increased scrutiny since the death of another man, Sergei Nazarov, at the hands of police officers.

The 52-year-old Nazarov died in March after being allegedly beaten and raped with a champagne bottle at a different police station in Kazan, sparking a public outcry.

A court last month sentenced two police officers to two and 2 1/2 years in prison. Another nine officers are awaiting trial.

But Tatarstan is no exception in Russia, where rights groups say police routinely employ torture either to extract confessions from suspects or out of sheer cruelty.

"There is only one thing that sets Tatarstan apart from other regions -- there are lawyers here who deal with cases of police torture," Pavel Chikov, who heads Agora, a prominent nongovernmental organization also based in Kazan that provides legal services to civic activists, says. "Thanks to these lawyers, these cases become known to the broader public. But on the whole, the use of violence by police is common in this country."

The apparent torture inflicted on Drozdov even has a name used by police: the "swallow."

It causes severe pain in the joints, cuts off blood supply to the wrists, and can dislocate the victim's arms and shoulders.

There's also the "crocodile," when police hold the victim on the ground and pull his limbs in different directions, or the "little elephant," when police strap a gas mask onto a person's face before shutting off the air supply.

Rights groups say the much-touted police reform introduced last year by then-President Dmitry Medvedev has done little to curb police abuse.

Meanwhile, former Tatar Interior Minister Asgat Safarov, who was forced to step down amid the scandal sparked by Nazarov's death, has since been promoted to the rank of deputy prime minister of Tatarstan.

RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service contributed to this report

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