Window on Eurasia: Moscow in 2002 Secretly Authorized Police to Shoot Demonstrators

by Paul A. Goble  |  May 3, 2005  |  ARTICLES

The Russian Interior Ministry in October 2002 issued an order, restricted „for official use only,” to militia offices around the country permitting them in undefined special circumstances to use lethal force against protesters even if the latter are unarmed and to confine suspects of various kinds in "filtration points”

This order, numbered 870 and signed by Boris Gryzlov, who was then Russian Interior Ministry and is now chairman of the State Duma, was uncovered by human rights activists looking into police attacks in Blagoveshchensk and reported by them at a press conference on Monday (http://www.polit.ru/analytics/2005/06/01/prik_print.html).

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the longtime president of the Moscow Helsinki Group and a leading specialist on Russian government violations of human rights, said that she and her colleagues had long suspected the existence of just such an order but that they had not been able to extract a copy from the authorities until recently. 

As she and other human rights activists examined the Blagoveshchensk incidents, she continued, "local law enforcement organs themselves showed [them] the order as a justification for their actions.” They were, from their perspective, simply following orders from above.

Georgiy Satarov, another leading human rights activist, pointed out at the same press conference that this order had been issued long before the events in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine that some have suggested were prompting Moscow to take a new, harder line.  Rather, he said, the country’s force structures were given a green light for cruelty much earlier.

And Valeriy Borshchev, the president of the Social Partnership Fund, said that the order, being a normative act of the state, should have been made public immediately rather than issued "for official use only.” And other participants said that the failure of the order to precisely define the circumstances in which it could be used invited official misconduct.

Valeriy Gribakin, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Public Affairs Administration who attended the press conference, dismissed the argument that Russian law somehow required that this order be made public.  He said that the issuance of orders "for official use only” was normal practice within the Russian MVD.

But in response to questions from the audience and other participants, Gribakin said that he personally was not in a position to provide definitions of what constituted "extraordinary circumstances” that would justify the use of force by the militia or to define "filtration points” and the actions permitted against those confined in them.

For their part, human rights leaders Alexeyeva and Satarov said that they were calling on General Procurator Vladimir Ustinov and Justice Minister Yuri Chaika to explain just what this order actually means and also to consider whether both its provisions and the way it was issued are in conformity with Russian law.

But these human rights activists are not hopeful that the Russian government will annul this 2002 order. Indeed, in an interview in yesterday’s "Nezavisimaya gazeta – Religii,” Alexeyeva that she fears that the Russian government now is more interested in restricting the rights of its citizens than in defending those rights (http://religare.ru/print18186.htm)