An independent investigation into a police crackdown in Blagoveshchensk late last year has brought to light a secret Interior Ministry document that allows police to place suspects in "filtration stations" and expands their authority to use firearms in violation of the law, human rights activists said.
More worryingly, the document appears to represent the tip of an iceberg of illegal regulations and instructions that law enforcement agencies have drawn up to prevent street protests, the activists said.
The document -- titled "Instructions for the Planning and Preparation of Actions for Law Enforcement Agencies and Interior Troops in Emergency Situations" -- surfaced during the investigation into the actions of Blagoveshchensk police in December, when hundreds of people were detained at random on streets, in cafes and in their homes. More than 100 said they had been beaten and abused by police officers during the four-day raid, which local authorities have defended as an urgent measure to restore order.
The document describes procedures and actions to be taken by Interior Ministry officials during "emergency situations," "states of emergency" and "emergency circumstances." The term "emergency circumstances" -- which has never been used in any law or other legal document on public record -- is vaguely described as any event "substantially affecting the activities of citizens, society and the state and demanding special measures" to protect citizens' lives and rights, property and "the normal functioning of different life-supporting facilities."
Levinson said he was particularly worried about the interpretation of the phrase "special measures."
"Nowhere in Russian law can one find the meaning of 'special measures.' Anything could be hidden behind these words," he said. "Usually, it is a bureaucratic term for the officials' actions in a legal twilight zone."
The document allows police to "liquidate bandits at the place where they gather" but does [not?] say how police should determine who are "bandits." Also, the document appears to contradict the law on police, which describes in detail the circumstances under which police officers are allowed to use firearms. "Liquidating bandits at the place where they gather" is not listed them.
The document could be used to justify the mobilization of police against the public during street protests, catastrophes and natural cataclysms, said Alexeyeva, noting that it leaves unclear what the prerequisites are for an "emergency circumstance" and who has the right to declare that one is taking place.
The document details procedures for police during hostage-takings, the hijackings of ships and trains, and operations to break up gangs and illegal armed formations. In all those situations, it instructs police to create "filtration stations" for the temporary detention of citizens.
"For several years, authorities have told us that no filtration points exist, and now we have caught them by the tail," Alexeyeva said.
Existing laws that regulate the detention of people make no mention of filtration stations, meaning that the document allows police to create their own detention system outside the limits of the law and without oversight by prosecutors and the public, Levinson said.
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