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A Detention, A Recording, A Brutal Beating: Another Window Into Russian Police Interrogations

Riot police detain demonstrators during a protest in St. Petersburg against Russia's war on Ukraine. For years, rights groups have sought to track the abuse and torture of detainees by Russian security forces and a new surreptitious recording seems to convey in painful detail how police interrogations are frequently conducted.

The first blow comes about 52 seconds in, after Aleksandra Kaluzhskikh enters the interrogation room at the police station in the Moscow district of Brateyevo.

One of nearly 5,000 people arrested on March 6 amid protests against Russia’s war in Ukraine, Kaluzhskikh was asked to state her name, home address, and place of study, and to explain how she heard about the demonstrations.

In an audio recording first published by a well-known Russian rights group and circulated on a Telegram channel, Kaluzhskikh, 26, responds by citing the clause in the Russian Constitution that bars people from incriminating themselves.

The sound of what appears to be a person being hit is then heard.

“The next one will be even harder,” a man identified in the transcript as a police officer can be heard saying.

It gets worse.

Over nearly 11 minutes of the recording, the sound of blows is heard repeatedly, interspersed with verbal abuse.

By the standards of Russian police brutality, documented for years by rights groups, the physical and verbal abuse that Kaluzhskikh endured is shocking, but not out of the ordinary.

WATCH: Russian Police Brutally Disperse Peaceful Protests (August 2019)

No One Safe As Moscow Police Lash Out
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The fact that it was recorded, apparently surreptitiously, was unusual and revelatory, conveying in painful detail how police interrogations are frequently conducted -- and the violence that is frequently employed.

Kaluzhskikh could not be immediately located for comment and her whereabouts were not immediately clear. OVD-Info, the nongovernmental organization that published the audio recording, said it did so with Kaluzhskikh’s permission. Other media outlets, including the newspaper Novaya gazeta, also obtained the recording.

The group did not immediately respond to a query from RFE/RL, and the authenticity of the recording could not be independently verified. There was no immediate response to an e-mail query sent to the main Moscow police department mailing address.

Heavy Riot Police Response

The expletive-laden recording, which was also published to YouTube, appeared on the same day of anti-war protests in Moscow and dozens of other Russian cities -- the 11th day of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Numbers of participants in the protests were unclear, and in many cases, the protesters were met with a heavy riot police response.

Thousands Detained In Anti-War Protests Across Russia
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OVD-Info said that more than 2,000 people were detained in Moscow on March 6, and more than 4,600 nationwide. Official police figures put the number at around 3,300.

Rights groups for years have sought to track the abuse and torture of detainees, not only by police but also in Russia’s prison system.

Last year, a former prison inmate managed to copy and smuggle out scores of videos showing abuse in Russian prisons. The revelation caused a stir, and outrage, among Russians who, in many cases, have become inured to the systematic nature of the problem.

The recording obtained by OVD-Info begins as Kaluzhskikh is brought into an undetermined room; the sounds of several police officers -- male and female -- can be heard speaking to her.

After she refuses to answer the officers’ questions, and she cites “Article 51” of the constitution, she is hit repeatedly. And she can be heard swearing repeatedly.

'Putin Is On Our Side'

At one point, after an officer is heard mocking her anatomy and her appearance, Kaluzhskikh asks if the officer is threatening her.

“Yes. I’m threatening you. I’m threatening you with physical violence,” he says.

“Putin is on our side. You are the enemies of Russia. You are the enemies of the people,” the same officer is heard saying later.

It’s not clear how long in all Kaluzhskikh endured police questioning or abuse. At one point in the recording, she can be heard saying, “We have been here for more than three hours.”

At another point, a female officer or interrogator accuses her of being crazy, apparently due to her refusal to answer the questioning -- and citing her legal rights.

“A man beats me up in front of you and I’m [crazy]?!” Kaluzhskikh responds.

The recording cuts off after a conversation about her broken cell phone, and then is followed by muffled sounds of movement and a woman crying.

A Twitter account belonging to a group of feminist activists also posted a message on March 6 saying that at least three women who had been detained at the same police precinct had been beaten by officers, with one of them having her hair pulled and another having a bag put over her head.

In an interview with the Telegram channel known as SOTA, published late on March 6, Kaluzhskikh explained further what happened.

"They kicked me, slapped me on the head.” she was quoted as saying. “They poured water on me. They ripped off my mask, ripped the phone out of my hands, threw it against the wall, twice.”

“At the end, they picked [the phone] up, wiped off the fingerprints. They grabbed me by the hair and pulled me around,” she said, according to SOTA. “They called me names. There were two girls in the office, and they were just watching the torture.”

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    Mike Eckel

    Mike Eckel is a senior correspondent reporting on political and economic developments in Russia, Ukraine, and around the former Soviet Union, as well as news involving cybercrime and espionage. He's reported on the ground on Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the wars in Chechnya and Georgia, and the 2004 Beslan hostage crisis, as well as the annexation of Crimea in 2014.