A tragic pattern: Roma woman found dead in Pskov

In December 2014 Roma community in Pskov region was shocked by a tragedy of a young woman. Dead body of Oxana K., a Roma woman, was found in the forest not far from the city. As it was later discovered, she had suffocated because of a sachet with a drug, which was discovered in her throat.

Local Roma people started suspecting police involvement in the death of the woman from the very beginning, as she had disappeared after being arrested by the officers of the drug fighting squad following a “control purchase” of a drug organized together with local association “Drug-free city”. One could suspect at least abuse of authority on the part of the police: the woman could have tried to hide the drug by swallowing it and suffocated as a result of that, but then why wasn’t she taken to the hospital, why was her death covered up and why was her body later discovered in a forest?

Unfortunately for Pskov, this tragedy was nothing unique. For some years human rights defenders have been speaking out against police violence aimed at local Roma people in this city. Back in 2004 human rights report “Roma in Russia: at the crossroads of various types of discrimination” was published, which listed typical cases of abuse taken from the life of Pskov Roma community. Oxana K. was also mentioned in this report: her mother had told human rights defenders how Oxana had been tortured in police station after she had been falsely accused of stealing a wallet during a bus ride. Oxana was asphyxiated with the hood of her coat, beaten up and humiliated in different ways. It was only due to decisive actions of her mother that Oxana was freed from the hands of torturers.

Earlier, in 2002, similar actions by police officers cost life to Fatima Alexandrovich, who had died in one of Pskov police stations. She, too, had been arrested on a bus, charged with stealing a wallet and later died in a hospital from horrible wounds. Police claimed that Fatima threw herself out of the window of a room on the fourth floor of the police building trying to avoid being interrogated. But bruises from beating were seen by witnesses on her body, and those who knew her well claimed that she wouldn’t commit suicide trying to avoid being interrogated. European Court for Human Rights stated later that this case had not been properly investigated because the version of torture and murder had not been even considered by the investigators in spite of the fact that a serious crime had been committed and the woman who had died had been pregnant at the time of her death.

One can see that the methods of Pskov police officers had not changed in ten years since these previous tragedies: the types of treatment Roma women, who may have troubles with the law, face are the same as before. Pskov Roma community hopes that those guilty of this recent crime will face due punishment. But this would be not enough, as the general principles of police work and treatment of ethnic minorities should also be changed in order for this tendency towards escalation of violence against Pskov Roma people not to result in more terrible crimes.

Alexander Belov