Russian Security Forces Accused of Using Slave Labor

Migrant day laborers on Moscow's Yaroslavskoye Highway. Source: the New TimesA Russian magazine is being sued by an elite police subdivision in response to an article accusing them of forcing migrant workers to work without pay, reports Ekho Moskvy radio.

The article, which was published on Monday by the New Times magazine, is based on allegations made by former police officer Larisa Krepkova, who left the elite Zubr subdivision of the Russian Internal Ministry’s OMON security forces a year and a half ago due to illness. According to Krepkova, officers from the unit would travel to Moscow’s Yaroslavskoye Highway to recruit migrant workers, who were then brought to the Zubr base in the nearby region of Shchelkovo. There, they were forced to dig ditches, set up fences, and clean toilets without pay, even though Official invoices included tallies of the cost of labor.

Krepkova said that the workers, who she labeled as “slaves,” even wound up working in the dacha of Deputy Interior Minister Colonel General Mikhail Sukhodolsky. In addition to not being paid the workers were beaten and poorly treated in general. After Internal Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev undertook a survey of the base, the workers were assigned more specific tasks, she said.

The former officer explained that funding for labor was previously determined by the Zubr officers themselves, and that today the funds are specifically allocated by the Internal Ministry. As such, she was unaware if Zubr was continuing such practices today.

The New Times article adds that the Zubr OMON subdivision is under the direct jurisdiction of Internal Minister Nurgaliyev, and is commonly known as “the minister’s personal security.”

A spokesperson from the Internal Ministry said on Monday that they plan to sue the magazine for libel.

Monday’s article is the second in less than a month by the New Times to address problems with the OMON, which are notorious for their brutal suppression of activist rallies and other protests. On February 1, the magazine published an open letter from a number of former Moscow OMON to Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, describing poor working conditions, mistreatment by their superiors, orders to break up opposition rallies, and rampant corruption.

The next day, members of the Moscow city OMON announced their decision to sue the New Times for libel. City Police Chief Vladimir Kolokoltsev later stated that an internal investigation found the charges to be false. Additionally, the agency sent invitations to a number of journalists and rights activists to join the OMON for Russia’s traditional Maslenitsa festival celebrations. The OMON said that the event was a chance to show that the agency had nothing to hide, but the online newspaper described the proceedings as obviously staged.

The New Times noted that in response to the February 1 article, it has received a record number of letters from police officers with similar experiences. Its editors said on Monday that while they have yet to receive notification of any lawsuits regarding the articles, they are prepared to defend them in court.

Monday’s article can be read in its entirety in Russian by clicking here.