ERRC: Russian Police Arrested in Connection with Extortion and Torture of Roma
23 June 2004
On June 23, 2004, the European Roma Rights Center sent a letter to Mr Vladimir Vasilievich Ustinov, the General Prosecutor of the Russian Federation, pertaining to the arrest of four police officers – a major, two senior lieutenants and a lieutenant – on suspicion of extortion, group robbery and abuse of power in relation to an incident involving Romani individuals in the city of Novosibirsk. In its letter, the ERRC detailed the reported abduction of a Romani couple and their young daughter by at least eight officers, the reported torture of all three family members and subsequent extortion of a large sum of money by the officers. The ERRC urged Mr Ustinov to take action to ensure that all officers involved in the incident be brought swiftly to justice and that the racial animus of the incident and the allegations of torture be explored. The letter was copied to Mr Vladimir Vasilievich Tocarev, the Regional Prosecutor of Novosibirsk. The full text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr Ustinov,
I am writing to you on behalf of the European Roma Rights Center (ERRC), an international public interest law organisation defending the rights of Roma in Europe, to draw your attention to important developments and urge a swift action by your office.
The case involves the recent arrest of four police officers in the city of Novosibirsk in relation to the extortion of money from and torture of Romani individuals. On June 10, 2004, the Moscow-based Russian daily newspaper Kommersant reported that four police officers, including a major, two senior lieutenants and a lieutenant, were arrested in Novosibirsk, on suspicion of extortion, group robbery and abuse of power. According to the daily, the arrest followed an incident in March 2004 during which at least eight police officers abducted a 3-member Romani family and tortured the young couple in front of their 8-year-old daughter in the forest close to the nearby town of Krasny jar. The officers reportedly beat the child as well. During the physical abuse, the officers stole the family’s gold jewellery and demanded 30 million Russian roubles (approximately 855,000 Euro), according to the daily. The following morning, the officers finally ceased torturing the couple when they agreed to pay 1 million Russian roubles (approximately 28,500 Euro). At this time, one of the officers accompanied the Romani woman to get the money while the remaining officers held her husband and child hostage. Following the family’s release, the couple filed a complaint with the local police investigator against the officers involved and, with a delay of several months, after a search of their homes and offices on the morning of June 9, 2004, the four officers were arrested the same day. Kommersant reported that the local investigator is going to recommend to the local court that the four officers be charged in accordance with the three crimes mentioned above.
Kommersant also reported that the officers were involved in a similar incident in November 2003, during which a relative of the couple involved in the March 2004 incident was abducted while walking in the streets of Novosibirsk and taken to a forest where he was beaten by police officers for seven hours while the officers demanded money. In this incident, the Romani man moved away from the town because the officers had threatened to burn his “Gypsy” family after he refused to give them money.
Mr Ustinov, ERRC research conducted in Russia since 2000 indicates a high level of anti-Romani sentiment in the country which colours the interactions between Roma and their non-Romani counterparts. Widespread racist abuse of Roma exists in Russia and in many cases the perpetrators are law enforcement officials. The ERRC calls on your office to ensure that all officers involved in the extortion of money from and the torture of the Romani family be brought swiftly to justice. Therefore, we urge that an investigation against the other four officers reportedly involved in the abuse be opened, and that the investigation against the officers arrested on June 9 explores the racial animus of the incident and takes into consideration torture.
The ERRC respectfully requests to be informed of all actions undertaken by your office in this regard. We also welcome the opportunity to discuss this case with you further.
Persons wishing to express similar concerns are urged to contact:
Mr Vladimir Vasilievich Ustinov
Russian General Prosecutor’s Office
B. Dmitrovka str. nr. 15a
125993 Moscow GSP-3 Russia
Fax: + 70 95 292 8848
Mr Vladimir Vasilievich Tocarev, Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor
Novosibirsk Regional Prosecutor’s Office
Kamenskaia str. nr. 20-a.
Novosibirsk reg. 630099, Russia
Fax: +70 383 23 7468