The Land Where You Sit: Guilty without Guilt They falsely charge a man with murder and then don’t even apologize By Grigory Pasko, journalist One of the principal features of a state is that it has its own army and police. We all know what condition the Russian army is in. Periodic reports about failed missile launches, constant reports about soldiers and sailors dying because of the persistence of the practice of hazing, the shameful war in Chechnya, and the absurd replacement of one non-professional at the post of minister of defense for another – these facts are so eloquent in and of themselves that there isn’t even any need for additional commentary. The whole world has also heard plenty about the condition the Russian police are in. The mass beatings of the residents of many Russian cities by “organs of law and order” speak volumes. If in such actions against their own people as the “marches of those who disagree”, the police are acting on the direct orders of the authorities, there are also facts that testify to the independent initiative of the police. To the manifestation of “on the spot creativity”, so to speak. And sometimes this “creativity” is just so ugly that it gets coverage at the level of all of Europe. That’s how it was with the Mikheyev case. In Nizhni Novgorod, a certain Alexey Mikheyev gave a girl a lift in his car; the girl subsequently disappeared. They arrested him, beat a confession out of him that he is a madman-murderer. During the course of the torture, Mikheyev leaped out of a third floor window and broke his back. The girl came home after a week. Mikheyev filed an application with the Strasbourg court and won a quarter million euros compensation from his own country. But what if the girl hadn’t returned home? And how many other Mikheyevs are there? That’s exactly what befell Dmitry Aprelkov – an ordinary citizen of Chita. After 3 days spent in the Chernovsky district branch of internal affairs (ROVD) [police station—Trans.], they forced him to “admit” the murder of a citizen whom he had never once met in his life. Then they threw Aprelkov in prison. The good news is the with the help of a lawyer, relatives, and the human rights community, the story had a positive outcome. Dmitry was ultimately found completely innocent. Today he asserts that the police had beaten him. After three months in the investigative isolator (SIZO), the young man’s health had seriously deteriorated, and he had lost a prestigious job. But let’s allow Dmitry Aprelkov to tell his story in his own words.
Photo of Dmitry Aprelkov by Grigory Pasko
In December 2003 I was in the military – I was serving in Chita as a driver-electrician at a mobile laboratory. When the time came to go on leave, I decided to spend it in Chita. I returned from leave at the beginning of January 2004. Later it becomes known to me that a murder had taken place just at this time in the part of town where I live and where I spent my leave: someone had killed a certain citizen by the name of Kapanin. Soon after the leave, I was called in to the commander of the unit. In the commander’s office was a person in civilian clothing, who introduced himself as Yekimov, an investigator from the Chernovsky district branch of internal affairs of the city of Chita. He immediately began examining my arms, searching for tattoos on them. He looked, didn’t find anything, didn’t say anything of note, and left. In April 2004, when my tour of duty came to an end, and I was preparing to write an application for contract service, Yekimov appeared once again in the unit. No longer alone this time, but accompanied by a person unknown to me in civilian dress. They said to the unit commander that they were taking me for 20 minutes from the unit. They took me from the unit, as will become clear later, almost forever. When we came out, both policemen stood at my sides and without explanations twisted my arms backward, behind my back. And that’s how they brought me to the Chernovsky district branch of the police. The threats, questions, and yelling started right away: we know everything about you, you killed Kapanin and so on. Then they started hitting. But before this they ripped the sergeant’s patches from my epaulets, took away my belt, shoelaces, turned out my pockets… They handcuffed me to the chair on which I was sitting, and started hitting. In so doing, Yekimov intimidated with jail and camp, said that he’d assign me to such a cell where they’d “dunk” me, that is, make me into a “rooster” (Comment: that is, they would rape him with the help of other convicts). In the cell at the district branch they held me several days. And all this time they thought up new kinds of beatings and torture. For example, they’d put a gas mask on me that you could only exhale through. They’d put a thick book up against my chest – this was the Criminal Code with commentary – and hit hard, so they wouldn’t leave any traces from the blows. They beat about the arms, the kidneys, the head… On one of the days they performed a so-called lineup. Some friend of Yekimov’s came and brought two young people. It was visible that all of them are well acquainted with one another. Then they brought in some person, who pointed at me and said: that’s the one. The lawyer showed up on the second day. This was an “advocate by appointment”, in other words not the one whom I or my relatives had chosen, but who had been appointed by the state, for example by Yekimov. He started by trying to get me to… confess to killing Kapanin. Later mother told me that he had phoned her and offered to sort everything out for 60 thousand rubles (Comment: more than two thousand US dollars). Mother didn’t have that kind of money, or else she would have given it. The torture continued. When I’d start to suffocate in the gas mask, they’d say to me: sign a declaration on surrendering yourself. They didn’t feed me all this time. For the night, they’d drive me to the temporary holding isolator. On the third day they say: you want to eat? Here’s food from home, mother brought it. Everything boiled up inside me. I say: what are you, fascists, with all your torture here? They led me to the office again and beat me once again. Then they handcuffed me to the chair, ran two electric wires to the legs. They call this the “lie detector”. I also remember that there were little drops of blood on the walls of the torture room. Apparently to make it more frightening. They didn’t present official charges to me all this time. In the end, I signed the surrender, admitting under pressure that I had committed murder. The surrender I signed under dictation from Yekimov. After this they sent me off to the SIZO of Chita. There they examined me and issued a diagnosis: healthy. By that time mother had hired a lawyer. Subsequently, inasmuch as I’d been in the military, the lawyer insisted that the case be transferred to the military procuracy. The military procuracy conducted its probe and came to the conclusion that I have an alibi for the moment of the murder and that I was not involved in the murder of Kapanin. After two and a half months, in August, they released me. Yekimov, naturally, did not apologize. Furthermore, he came to me at home and threatened: we’ll lock you up anyway. In the unit they met me, like a criminal, and soon dismissed from service. And in the military hospital they formed me a diagnosis: nidal tuberculosis of the lung. Then I made the acquaintance of human rights advocates and began to fight for the restoration of my good name, so that they would officially admit that I was not guilty and had been summoned to arrest groundlessly.
A copy of the court decision on compensation for moral damages
At the beginning of 2007, the court of the Chernovsky district of Chita issued a decision to recover 100 thsd. rubles in my favor from the Ministry of finances of the RF. And that’s the story that befell an ordinary citizen of Russia. What Dmitry didn’t say was that representatives of the Ministry of Finance resisted long and hard, not wishing to pay him a single kopek. He also didn’t mention that Yekimov and the other policemen didn’t receive any punishment whatsoever for their unlawful actions. It is noteworthy that the district court too did not issue a special ruling addressed to Yekimov based on the facts of the exceeding by him of his authority. …I seem to recall that at the start of his presidency Putin promised Russians a dictatorship of the law. As we can see, there is a dictatorship. But with observing laws – there are problems.