Ordinary Russians are adopting a tactic to combat police brutality that’s become common in the United States: YouTube.
Police brutality in Russia has been a public issue for several years, with near-daily reports of beatings, shootings, and deaths in police stations occurring throughout the country. The problem became so bad that in 2010, then-president Dmitry Medvedev ordered an overhaul of the police and security services. The problem does not appear to have subsided, as data provided by Russia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and news reports shows that in 2016, 99 people died inside Russian police stations. However, Maria Berezina, the journalist who compiled the data, claims that this number likely only represents a fraction of the number of deaths.
Occasionally filming police does bring results. In January, Russian police officers were filmed as they violently pulled a man with a prosthetic arm out of his car, breaking the arm in the process. About a month later, police officials opened an investigation into the officers involved after the video caused an uproar on social media.
A Vocativ analysis of Russian video uploads to YouTube found that 47 percent of Russian videos detailing police brutality posted in the last year had only been uploaded in the last 30 days. A search for the Russian terms for police brutality (Полицейский беспредел and полицейский произвол) revealed 19,450 videos uploaded in the past year. Of these, 9,232 were uploaded in the last month alone.
The videos showing police brutality in Russia are often uploaded by anonymous and ordinary users of the site. One example, uploaded by an anonymous user claiming to live in the provincial city of Tolyatti, claims that police twisted his arms, forced him to accompany them to the police station, and refused to provide medical aid, even though he was actually the victim of a crime. According to the user, he has since been released and was hospitalized for his injuries. He is now demanding an apology from the police.
People are not afraid to upload footage of even minor incidents involving the police. One anonymous YouTube user showed police appearing to assault the user as he filmed officers placing handcuffs on a drunk man in the hospital. Police shouted and used force to attempt to stop the user from filming.
A video uploaded by Russian civic activists instructs viewers on how to interact with police officers during what they deem illegitimate stops. Such incidents appear to be common on the streets of Russia. The activists have uploaded dozens of videos showing interactions with the police.
Lev Ponomarev, a Russian human rights activist, says that “the crime rate in the police and prison system, we can say, has gradually increased in recent years.” He believes “the police system is falling apart, as well as the investigative committee, and Prosecutor’s Office. The cause of all this is corruption. Corruption scandals are occurring everywhere. If this happens within the senior offices, and we know that it is happening from the news, it trickles down to the regular policeman, and is becoming more visible and thriving.”
“They need to be held accountable,” Ponomarev said. “They take innocent people and beat them to get a testimony. And we have a lot of complaints about it from citizens.”
“With the advent of the internet comes more publicity and transparency. People are more involved in the discussion of social problems via the internet,” he added.
Lev Ponomarev said he is also focused on the issue of torture in Russian prisons, and works to assist abused prisoners. His movement for Humans Rights continues to receive complaints while helping victims of police brutality.