Nastik Gryzunova and Anastasia Vikulova: “And who are you?” “What, can’t you tell?” Why are people in anonymous uniforms making arrests at rallies? [OVD-Info]

posted 11 Jun 2018, 06:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 11 Jun 2018, 06:27 ]
26 May 2018

By Nastik Gryzunova and Anastasia Vikulova 

Source: OVD-Info 


Lately — especially this past year — there have been more frequent instances of citizens being arrested at mass demonstrations by unidentified persons—men wearing something like a police uniform but not having or not showing their badges and refusing any request that they identify themselves and show their ID. What is going on and how we can deal with this is explained by Nastik Gryzunova. 

When you are being arrested at a rally, your simple request to police officers to “identify yourself and show your ID” is scarcely met every time with understanding. Although, seemingly, the rules are transparent. First, “on the uniform of a police officer performing service in public places there should be a badge allowing the police officer to be identified.” Second, “in addressing a citizen, the police officer is required to cite his position, rank, and surname and to present upon the citizen’s request his official identification, after which he must tell him the reason and purpose of his addressing him.” The law “On the police” unambiguously requires officers not to conceal their badges, their names, or their ID. A policeman is a public official, and his chest badge is the first and most obvious means of identifying who is saying "Come along with me," a person with whom one can interact on understood terms clearly described in existing legislation. This is a formal guarantee that the person making the arrest and possibly using force in doing so has grounds and the right to act in this way, is not exceeding his authority — and will not exceed his powers in the future. However, men in uniform without badges, names, or ID making (frequently illegal) arrests at mass demonstrations do not identify themselves as police, and consequently their behavior is unpredictable and logically perceived as a threat (and the organs for protecting law and order are doing nothing to dispel that unflattering impression).

Lately, people detained at mass demonstrations have frequently been told that the people making their arrests have concealed their badges (or simply don’t have any such badges). The only way to tell that these people are in positions of authority and have the right to make certain demands of citizens is by their uniform, which is not easy for everyone to identify. (Also, these people, of course, announce their position of power in words, and “to observe and respect the rights and freedoms of the human being and the citizen” is something they rarely manage to do in the process.) Ultimately, only one thing is known for certain about those who have made the arrest: they were wearing a uniform similar to a policeman’s.
  • I was approached by two men in police uniforms without badges who did not identify themselves and demanded I show them my ID, which I did. (9 May 2018, Tula) 
  • I’m marching on the fiftieth anniversary of October, in one hand I’m broadcasting for “Periskop” and in the other I’m carrying the Russian Constitution. I hear a din go up and try to get through to see, and all of a sudden a ninja with epaulets attacks me. Naturally, he didn’t identify himself or say what was going on in general. (12 June 2017, Blagoveshchensk) 
  • Three minutes later, I was suddenly attacked from behind by unknown men in bulletproof vests and helmets who applied brute physical force, twisting my arms behind my back, and without any explanation of any kind, without identifying themselves, led me out of the middle of the Field of Mars. To my requests that they identify themselves and explain why they were arresting me, they gave no explanations. Their badges were covered, they didn’t give me their full names or positions, and their identity cannot be established. (12 June 2017, St. Petersburg) 
  • On 26 March, at about 16:30, some men dressed like police officers rounded me up at the entrance to the Chekhovskaya metro station. I had committed no crime, there were no legitimate reasons for my arrest, and the arrest was made in violation of numerous provisions of the federal law “On the police” (they did not identify themselves, did not cite the reason for the arrest, did not warn me of the use of physical force, and used physical force without legal grounds). (26 March 2017, Moscow) 
  • We were surrounded by policemen, and one of them said to go to a special bus. No one identified himself to me, and no one explained the reason for this demand. (11 November 2016, Khimki) 
Requests from detainees asking these supposed law enforcement agents to identify themselves or to produce their badge number and papers – in other words, to obey the law – are often dismissed: they are ignored, or met with mockery or even thinly veiled threats.
  • I asked several times why I was being arrested. In response, they beat me and shouted: “Shut up b@%*h! I’ll rip your tongue out!” (26 March 2017, Moscow) 
  • At one point, I was approached by a guy in a police uniform who asked me what I was doing there. I asked him, “And who are you?” He responded: “What, isn’t it obvious?” (8 June 2017, Moscow) 
  • I got on the bus after a prolonged altercation. I wanted to know the names of the people who had taken me away from this celebration of life. They hurled a threat at me in response: “Missy, do you want us to wring your neck or something?” (12 June 2017, St Petersburg). 
Then, when the charges are being drawn up at the police station, if the detainee wants it recorded that the arrest was conducted in violation of the law “On Police”, they are sometimes faced with resistance, and the outcome is always the same: the officers produce neither their badges nor their papers.
  • In the precinct, I asked the police to identify themselves and produce their service papers in accordance with the law on police, as I was intending to complain about their actions. They did not do this (March 2016, Ivanovo). 
The same periodically happens with searches, too – homes and offices are broken into by people who do not produce papers, do not have badges, and are not always in uniform.
  • As far as I could see, they did not show any papers relating to the investigation, what the purpose of their search was, nor who they were or what right they had to enter our home. There wasn’t a single document, even though I asked several people multiple times. (Search and arrest of Sviatoslav Rechkalov, 14 March 2018, Moscow) 
  • The policewoman refused to identify herself or produce her badge, explaining that SHE FORGOT IT. (Search of Navalny’s headquarters, 7 March 2018, St Petersburg) 
We asked a representative of the Moscow police department to explain what is happening and why. He admitted that it is against the law for the police forces to behave in this way, but took a rather philosophical approach to the matter and did not predict any improvements in the situation:

“The only person who can explain why this is happening is the person responsible for their [the police officers OVD-Info] dispatch. There was a similar situation with the Cossacks who made their mark recently [on Pushkin Square OVD-Info]. It was exactly the same thing: who are these mysterious people without badges, in unidentifiable uniforms?”

And within the police forces, is there some kind of understanding that officers simply should not show their papers when making arrests at public events?

No. If [officers] are in uniform, they are required to identify themselves and show their papers. Not to do this is a clear violation of the law – that’s indisputable. If they twist your arms [when you are not offering any resistance], then it really is an incomprehensible situation. In the case of special operations, if police are in are in OMON [special riot police] uniforms with truncheons, no matter the ammunition available, they are not required to identify themselves. Theirs is an exceptional case and, accordingly, they have different protocols which are strictly adhered to.

And is the use of special measures announced in the case of unauthorised public events?

Nothing of the sort. What we’re talking about here are exceptional situations. So, for instance, if gangs are mobilising and we know that they are armed.

But this was a situation where “peaceful citizens gathered on Pushkin Square.” They were peaceful and unarmed, as per article 31 of the Constitution. It’s not really clear why any kind of special measures would be deployed.

Most likely, the officers were feeling a bit more relaxed and uninhibited, and so they did not feel any need to identify themselves or show their papers. Or maybe it was a special operation, who knows? If it was, [officers] aren’t required to identify themselves. In other words, the first scenario constitutes a violation of the law, and the second does not…everyone’s attitudes are different, I understand that perfectly well, and we are all living in the same country. But if you hold certain points of view, then nowadays that kind of thing will be stopped quite strongly and severely.

Following mass protests, when the arrests are flooding in and it’s especially difficult to make sure police officers comply with the law, finding out the names of those making arrests can be done only in a roundabout way and not immediately. Often, it will happen only in court, when the person against whom a case has been brought is finally able to get hold of the case materials, and discover more about themselves and their behaviour from reports, supposedly written by those who arrested them, and signed with names and ranks they’ve never seen before.
  • In the official court record, it said that I was arrested by two OMON agents, born in 1993 and 1994 respectively. But the man who arrested me was a tall, moustached man, over forty – and a witness will confirm this. (12 June 2017, Moscow
The judges base their decisions on reports made by unknown police officers – written in carbon-copy, and with signatures that raise serious questions – against participants in public events, and then write in the official record that the testimony of those involved is refuted by these reports, “the grounds of which cannot be questioned.” And if a police record was not drawn up at the time of arrest, or if a case was not initiated, the officers who carried out the arrest remain unnamed.

However, when OVD-info approached lawyers to comment on this situation, they responded that, while the police are of course obliged to identify themselves, their refusal to do so is the least of current problems. And even if the police reports used in cases against those arrested are signed by police officers, it doesn’t mean they carried out the arrest – the National Guard could have made the arrest (this, we note, creates a problem for peaceful citizens who gather for a public event: if you are going to take part in event, you need to be able to recognise the different uniforms, although this may not give you any more information about who actually arrested you).

“In the law “On Police”, there is a requirement to wear a badge. In the law “On the Russian National Guard Troops”, there isn’t,” explains Aleksandr Peredruk, lawyer with the Moscow Helsinki Group.

National Guard troops are generally not required to wear a badge – the law doesn’t oblige them to. Their uniform is supposed to distinguish them. National Guard troops once wore the OMON uniform, but now they’re supposed to wear the “Rosgvardia” stripe and so on. They have their own official ID. But again, unlike the police, they are not obliged to present their ID – not just in cases where someone approaches them but also when they detain someone. This differentiation is there in the law. There is total anonymity in their interactions with citizens.

Now – at least, in St Petersburg – the police, not the National Guard, are frequently arresting people at public events. But if we’re talking about public events, it is necessary to understand the reason for the arrest and whether it was possible to identify oneself and explain the reason for arrest. I think it’s plain to everyone that if the police are conducting a special operation, they’re not going to run after a suspect and shout “My name is officer Ivanov!” Usually they’re restricted by the fact that they are explaining everything through a megaphone.

But in general, the mass arrests of the last two years are, on the whole, objectively inappropriate. As a rule, public events happen peacefully, without any reason for arrests, and when we say that the police should be identify themselves when they make an arrest… Well, probably they should. But if you have a corpse, is it important that its finger hurts? Here it’s the same thing. On the one hand, we have serious violations: the very fact of the arrest, all the subsequent procedural aspects; on the other hand - just the fact that police officers were not identified. Does is that very important? That is the big question. This can be judged in the category of politically motivated (or the opposite) or as justified/unjustified. I am inclined to consider it best to ask whether the action was justified. In the case of unreasonable arrests, it’s clear why the officers don’t identify themselves. In effect it gives them carte blanche for any actions whatsoever. They can beat people with batons, even though federal legislation precisely and completely unambiguously forbids the use of special force on those detained at public events (well, with some exceptions). If, as on 5 May or 12 June, the police (without identifying themselves) can detain people and beat them with batons today, why can’t they do it tomorrow? It becomes a habit. Today they allowed, that means tomorrow they will also be allowed.

This has a knock-on effect: the more slack we cut them, the more they will do it. And there is no oversight from other law enforcement bodies. The Prosecutor’s Office is silent - for example, it didn’t once conduct an evaluation of the legality of the use of special force. The courts take a ‘wait and see’ position in a best case scenario, but as a rule simply refuse to acknowledge the illegality of these or other actions on the part of the police. And the effect of such a carte-blanche attitude, unfortunately is only negative.

Anastasia Samorukova, a lawyer from the Moscow Bar Association and legal expert, notes that if the people making the arrests didn’t have ID then it is highly likely they were not the police but the National Guard: 

“I don’t know how to deal with this at the moment. National Guard officers are arresting people - not only are their surnames unknown but also their faces are concealed because they can be in their astronaut helmets. Yes, they come up, they take people from behind, they do not show their faces, they drag them somewhere, and then reports appear in the case materials which the court recognises as admissible evidence. However, it often happens in court, for example, that if as an exception they summon the officers who wrote up the official report, they are unable to say who they arrested because they simply don’t remember, or they say what has already been written: that’s what I wrote at the time, they say. And why are all your reports exactly the same, word for word? “Well, because the situation was the same” and the court considers that to be OK.

"You understand, to be indignant because they did not identify themselves is just ridiculous. We must be disgusted because they absolutely don’t have the right to detain peaceful protesters who didn’t harm anyone. Of course, it’s also a problem, police officers are obliged to identify themselves. But in the current situation, given the current rights violations… The right to assemble peacefully and freely, without weapons, is so much trampled upon, that if in addition they don’t identify themselves when they arrest us… Well, OK, they don’t identify themselves. When we’ve solved all the other problems, it will be a good thing to address, but I wouldn’t start with this.”

Translated by Judith Fagelson, Marian Schwartz, Mercedes Malcomson and Tatjana Duff