Persecution of Motorist Rights Activist Continues in Russia

car with Medved license plate. Source: auto.lenta.ruMay 29th, 2008:

A regional court in the central Russian city of Yekaterinburg has added insult to injury for a local car enthusiast and motorist rights activist. After a long and harrowing series of encounters with police, Kirill Formanchuk, better known as “Medved,” is now being fined some 50 thousand rubles (€1361 or $2113). As the online newspaper reports, he has been found guilty of assaulting a representative of the state, charges the activist completely denies.

Formanchuk, who works for the Committee to Protect the Rights of Motorists, gained local attention for his efforts to stand up to corrupt traffic police. Instead of handing over bribes, the activist recorded his interactions with the officers, posted them on the internet, and filed formal complaints. His situation gained international prominence in October 2007 after he was severely beaten in a police holding cell.

The latest accusations allegedly took place the same day that Formanchuk was attacked. On October 12, 2007, the car enthusiast was taken into a local military enlistment office on grounds of draft-dodging. There, he got into a scuffle with a military commissar when he tried to record the exchange on his mobile phone. According to Formanchuk’s version of the event, the fight was started by the commissar.

Later the same night, the activist was arrested over the fight and transferred to a police holding cell. While in custody, Formanchuk was beaten so violently that he required immediate hospitalization. He was diagnosed with severe hemorrhaging and cerebral edema, dislodged teeth and bruising of the extremities.

Formanchuk is convinced that the reason for the attack was his campaign against corruption in the local traffic police. While his attackers have not been identified as militsiya officers, officers at the police station did not interfere or heed his calls for help.

Formanchuk received the nickname of “Medved” (“Bear” in Russian), for a decorative license plate he mounted on the front of his car. The vanity place became an excuse for traffic officers to pull him over, and became a major source of trouble for the activist.

Formanchuk has pledged to appeal the latest court ruling.