MOSCOW -- Concern is mounting for the safety of opposition activists on trial in Russia after police allegedly assaulted a freshly sentenced protester in a Moscow court.
Aleksei Polikhovich was reportedly beaten up by one of his police escorts shortly after being found guilty of rioting and assaulting police during a May 2012 opposition rally in Moscow that turned violent. The court on February 24 sentenced him to 3 1/2 years in jail.
Another six co-defendants in the so-called Bolotnaya case, which has been denounced internationally as politically motivated, received prison sentences ranging from 2 1/2 to four years.
Polikhovich was allegedly attacked in a room located in the court's basement, where he had been taken to sign a receipt for a copy of the court ruling. But instead of being handed the document, the police officer ordered him into the police van.
"Aleksei told him that under the law, they had to give him the court ruling. He [the police officer] started swearing at him," says Polikhovich's father, who is also called Aleksei Polikhovich. "Aleksei asked him not to insult him. The officer then hit him several times on the head and neck, and kicked him in the knee. He now has a large bruise on his knee."
Polikhovich says his son is unable to name his assailant, who he says concealed his identification badge during the attack. Rights advocates, including veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alekseyeva, are looking into the incident.
Moscow Police Given 'Free Rein'
This is not an isolated case -- several other Bolotnaya defendants have reported being assaulted by police on court premises.
In April 2013, Denis Lutskevich said he was attacked
by his police escort in another Moscow court. The officer had apparently been offended by the way Lutskevich had looked at him. Lutskevich was hit on the neck, handcuffed, and placed in a 1 square meter cell for an hour.
Six months later, in October, Bolotnaya defendant Sergei Krivov was reportedly assaulted in the corridor of a yet another Moscow court shortly before hearings.
His lawyer, Vyacheslav Makarov, says police forced Krivov to undress and made him squat several times before punching him in the shoulder. Makarov posted what appears to be Krivov's account of the incident
Complaints filed by Lutskevich and Krivov with Russia's Investigative Committee have elicited no response.
Pavel Chikov, who runs the prominent legal-advocacy-rights group Agora, says calls on prosecutors to probe the attacks have also fallen on deaf ears. He accuses the authorities of closing their eyes to police violence against opposition-minded citizens.
"As a whole, the beating of Muscovites by police is an issue that clearly has political roots. Police officers in Moscow have been given free rein to beat up citizens, especially if these people are protesters, opposition campaigners, and activists," Chikov says. "We have been unable to get a single criminal case opened in relation to these attacks since we started working actively in Moscow three years ago."
Chikov says more than 15 similar instances of police beatings in court have been reported in Moscow over the past two years alone.
Written in Prague by Claire Bigg based on reporting by Natalya Dzhanpoladova in Moscow