On the eve of Russia’s new police reform law coming into effect, the LA Times features some particularly harrowing accounts of the experiences of residents of Nizhny Novgorod at the hands of local police. These sobering testimonies act as a pointed reminder that reform of the country’s brutalized law enforcement culture remains desperately needed. The story focuses on one man in particular, former taxi driver Alexei Yakimov, whose run-in with the police forces culminated in his near death. The reporter points out however:
As horrifying as Yakimov’s story is, Igor Kalyapin says there are many worse ones that have been hushed up by police. “Victims and witnesses were scared into silence, blackmailed or bought and complaints were taken back, the charges dropped, and the cases closed down,” said Kalyapin, head of the Committee against Torture, an interregional group based in Nizhny Novgorod.
A casual look at Russian newspapers or television news reveals stories about police raping a schoolgirl, shooting randomly at supermarket customers, beating a professor and an old woman, torturing children.
RFE/RL provides an overview of the changes the law intends to institute, but with a heavy question mark hanging over whether they will have any concrete effects:
Irina Borogan is the deputy editor of agentury.ru, an investigativewebsite studying security and intelligence agencies. She sees only onepositive aspect in the reform: “the decision to reduce the number ofpolice officers.”
What most concerns Borogan is a new provision banning officers fromdiscussing their superiors’ orders or voicing their opinions publiclyand in the press, which critics fear will discourage whistle-blowers.
Many see this restriction as a response to the high-profile case ofAleksei Dymovsky, a police officer who denounced rampant policecorruption in his hometown of Novorossiisk in a video clip posted on theInternet.
The clip inspired a series of similar Internetpostings in which officers described how police routinely extorted moneyfrom ordinary Russians and framed innocent people.
Murashev,the former Moscow police chief, believes the new legislation — whichhe refuses to call a reform — will actually increase corruption inpolice ranks.
“The only thing that will change is thatcentralization will be greater, particularly financially — money willbe taken from the regions and transferred to the Interior Ministry,which had sought this for many years,” he says. “Greater centralizationautomatically means more corruption, because a centralized system in ourcountry is always more corrupt.”