Jerusalem24 – “Do you know that we can beat you so hard that you will be urinating blood? And there won’t be any traces — you won’t be able to prove anything,” Peter Sokovykh recalls a police officer screaming into his face as he found himself in a tiny room with six security officers in a St. Petersburg police station.
Just a few hours before this scene, in Russia’s second-largest city, Sokovykh was detained on January 31 for taking part in a demonstration in support of jailed Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny.
Sokovykh says the detention was sudden and harsh: he was checking his phone as someone he believed to be a plainclothes officer pushed him onto the road. Sokovykh said he was then grabbed by his hair and coat by men in protective equipment and dragged into a police van.
What followed, said Sokovykh, was “an eternity” of questioning. He says the police were trying to make him “crack,” to falsely confess to being paid by a foreign agent to attend the rally. Russia has repeatedly blamed the United States for fueling the protests.
“We will lock you up for 5 years. We’ll put you in a cell where inmates will rape you again and again. Is this what you want? No? Then tell us!” Sokovykh said the officer demanded.
Alena Kitaeva, a volunteer for Navalny’s key ally Lyubov Sobol, ended up in a room with four police officers in Moscow, one of whom put a plastic bag over her head and threatened to choke her unless she gives up a password for her phone, her colleague and Sobol’s representative Olga Klyuchinikova told CNN. After the interrogation, Alena was sentenced to 12 days in jail.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said when asked about Kitaeva’s case in a daily conference call with journalists, if what she described really happened, then she should have filed a lawsuit. Kitaeva is currently still in jail.
Sokovykh and several other protesters who spoke with CNN alleged mistreatment by security forces, including violence, threats, intimidation and being crammed in vans or cells. CNN has reached out to the Russian Interior Ministry for comment on allegations of violence and overcrowding. The interior ministry, which oversees police forces in the country, did not respond.
In recent weeks, Russian authorities have detained around 11,000 people at demonstrations to support Navalny, according to OVD-Info, an independent site that monitors arrests.
Some were let go after a few hours. But in Moscow and St. Petersburg, detention centers quickly ran out of space, forcing detainees to wait inside buses for hours on end, without basic necessities.