Charges Filed Against Police for Beating Composer

Professor Sergei Beloglazov. Source: UralCons.orgIn what has exploded into yet another a high-profile scandal involving the Russian police, the Sverdlovsk regional prosecutor’s Office announced on Wednesday that it would be initiating criminal proceedings against a group of police officers accused with beating and robbing a music professor in the city of Yekaterinburg earlier this month, reports

Sergei Beloglazov, a 62-year old piano professor at the Ural State Conservatory, originally filed a complaint on February 2 that he had been beaten and robbed by police on February 1. According to the professor, he was on his way home from the store when he was stopped by a police officer to check his identification documents. Beloglazov did not have his passport, which Russian citizens are legally required to carry at all times. The officer demanded that he come to the police station in order to have his identity established, but the musician refused.

At that point, says Beloglazov, several officers began to beat him, saying, “Nurgaliyev isn’t going to help you, bitch,” referring to Russian Internal Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev. “A composer,” the officers went on, “that means you’re a faggot, and we piss on people like that.”

Additionally, the police robbed Beloglazov of 2000 rubles (about $68) and he has lost feeling in his left hand, which he says may affect his ability to play the piano. Local authorities only accepted his appeal about the beating upon filing it for a second time, he says, and a criminal suit was only initiated after the story broke in the Russian media on Tuesday.

According to a press release from the Sverdlovsk regional prosecutor’s office on Wednesday, the decision to initiate charges was made only after prosecutor Yury Ponomarev personally demanded that the local police address the composer’s complaint. He had pointed out that it had been a week since Beloglazov filed the complaint. “However, as before, no proper criminal case had been initiated. And this is in spite of the presence of clear indications of criminality in the actions of the police,” says the press release.

Escorted by a local human rights representative, Beloglazov met with Sverdlovsk Regional Police Chief General Mikhail Nikitin on Tuesday evening, who privately apologized for the incident and promised not to do anything to hinder the investigation. Despite his concerns, Beloglazov says he was satisfied with the meeting and invited the general to one of his concerts.

The police officers allegedly involved in the beating are charged with exceeding their official powers with the use of violence. If convicted, they could face up to ten years in prison.

Sources in the local branch of the Russian Internal Ministry say that the officer charged with instigating the incident is Lieutenant Valery Postnikov, a canine handler. In an explanatory note, the sources say, the lieutenant claims that while he and his colleagues did participate in the incident, the musician had been drunk.

To prove their point, police officers distributed security camera footage on Wednesday from the store that Beloglazov visited prior to the beating. One clip shows a man appearing to be the composer entering the store, and the second clip shows the same figure exiting the store and taking a gulp from a bottle. “I’m not going to deny that I purchased a light beer in the store,” explained Beloglazov. “But I was not so drunk as to fall over, like the police are indicating in their explanatory notes. This doesn’t give them the right to beat me.”

The composer’s colleagues spoke out strongly in his defense. Vice Rector Yelena Fyodorovich of the Ural State Conservatory insisted that the video clips had been falsified. “Beloglazov was not examined for intoxication when he was detained. When a medical examination was done later, it showed nothing. Such actions on the part of the police are simply outrageous,” she said.

While the Russian police have long been notorious for their violent abuse of authority, they came under particularly harsh criticism after Major Denis Yevsyukov killed three and wounded several others in a Moscow supermarket while drunk late last April. With the renewed wave of media attention to police abuses that followed, prominent government and public officials began calling for the Internal Ministry to be dissolved. In December, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev ordered the Ministry to be extensively reformed, and in a January 24 statement said that the number of police personnel “needs to be reduced and wages should be raised.”

The success of such efforts remains to be seen. In a post on his blog, opposition activist Ilya Yashin described an exchange in a Moscow police station on January 31, a week after the president’s statement. Upon asking an officer why the police station’s bathroom was overflowing with garbage, Yashin was told that “if we’re being serious, it’s the fault of the Internal Ministry reforms. Did you hear that Medvedev reduced the police force by 20 percent? So all the janitors in our station have been fired. Not a single one remains.”