Taking away a gay person’s house on the beach: police torture in Crimea

05.09.2018
This post is also available in: Russian

The use of torture by the Russian law enforcement agencies has long ceased not only to shock, but also to surprise the public. In the recent months the media reported several cases of the use of violence against suspects and detainees on the part of the servicemen of the Center for Combating Extremism in Ingushetia and in a Yaroslavl penal colony. Ingush officers have already been convicted for the abuse of authority and the use of violence. Trial has begun in St. Petersburg against officers of the 70th police department, who were accused of forcing detainees to confess in committing crimes by pouring boiling water onto them and burning their nostrils. The St. Petersburg Investigative Committee opened a case on the perverted tortures of a businessman by an FSB officer. Numerous servicemen of the Yaroslavl penal colony were arrested for torturing prisoner Yevgeny Makarov.

This latter case received international publicity: the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) requested an effective investigation of the Makarov case to be conducted so that the perpetrators of this crime be brought to justice. The painstaking work of members of the public monitoring commission and lawyers, as well as international support for anti-fascists and anarchists led to a wide publicity of the “Set’ (Network)” case, in which the arrested suspects and witnesses were beaten and tortured with stun guns in St. Petersburg and Penza. An officer of the FSB, who had been involved in the use of violence and torture in Penza, was later exposed by a businessman, who was also tortured and forced to give up part of his business. Only after leaving Russia the victim told about what had happened, but the perpetrators have not yet been brought to justice.

The cases of widespread use of physical violence and psychological pressure by law enforcement agencies are being made known through the joint efforts of the victims, lawyers, human rights defenders, journalists and civil activists. However, these numerous facts of torture remain without investigation, and they are also silenced for a number of reasons. The representatives of vulnerable groups, who are systematically subjected to violence on the part of the representatives of law enforcement agencies, especially in the territories where lawlessness de facto persists, find themselves in an even more difficult situation.

More than a year ago the cases of mass abductions and torture of LGBT persons in the Northern Caucasus became widely known. In the course of the international campaign, which the Anti-Discrimination Center “Memorial” has launched, we called to put an end to the persecution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), not only in Chechnya, but also in the eastern regions of Ukraine. In the human rights report “Violation of LGBTI Rights in Crimea and Donbass: The Problem of Homophobia in Territories Beyond Ukraine’s Control”, we have provided evidence of the use of violence by armed men against members of the LGBT community in these regions. ADC “Memorial” now publishes this video testimony, made by a gay person from Crimea, who had informed human rights activists about the use of torture by the officers of law enforcement agencies in Crimea.

According to Alexander, in the fall of 2014 he was forced to leave Crimea after being tortured in a local police department. Officers of the district police department forced him to abandon the ownership of the house he had, which is located on the coastal line. Two policemen took Alexander out of his house on the pretext of checking his alleged involvement in the robbery in a nearby sanatorium, and on arrival to the police department they began torturing him, beating him with their fists, bottles of water and other objects, forcing him to make a leg split, threatening with rape, humiliating and insulting him because he was known to be gay.

Torture lasted for many hours and stopped only when Alexander has signed the documents on the ownership of his home in the resort area. The victim was forced to remove the traces of violence in the police department and then released. After his injuries were healed, Alexander left Crimea. After being forced by the police officers to sign documents under torture, he still does not know what kind of documents he signed and what became of his house. He has no relatives in Crimea, he had to cut off all contacts with this region because of the risk of new persecution. Alexander claims that his case was not unique: another gay person, V., who owned a house on the coast in the same village as Alexander and lived there alone, was arrested in the summer of 2014 on allegedly fabricated charges, and a few months after has died in jail. Real estate is also being taken from other people at risk, including lonely and drug dependent people or people who are otherwise vulnerable.

The majority of such victims in Russia prefer not to report the torture and arbitrary actions of state officials. Now the residents of Crimea, who have fear for themselves and their loved ones, also prefer not to publicize such cases. Alexander not only did not consider the possibility of appealing to the police with a statement about the crimes committed against him, but did not even try to ask for help in medical institutions: he feared that health workers would pass on the information about him to the very same policemen.

Police officers, who tortured Alexander, allowed themselves homophobic statements, improper behavior (punching people with police buttons) back under the Ukrainian government in Crimea, they had regularly conducted various checks of the members of the local LGBT community, who had been known to them not only in person, but also by name. The change of power in Crimea allowed them to move “from words to deeds”: cases of violence against LGBT persons in Crimea became much more frequent, and Russian official homophobic rhetoric further exacerbated the society’s rejection of gay people.

Many people avoid discussing such traumatic topics and do not allow themselves to talk about what happened to them in an attempt to try to forget about these horrific experiences. In an environment where information about the torture of LGBT persons in Crimea is almost not accessible, all such facts that become known to the public are of great importance. The arbitrariness of law enforcement officers is not only a form of political repression and homophobic violence, but also an expression of their private economic interest in taking other people’s property. At the same time, the use of torture still goes unpunished and becomes a sure way to achieve criminal goals.

Inessa Sakhno

First published in the blog of Radio Liberty