MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's top investigative agency filed new charges Thursday against police officers accused of torturing detainees amid growing public outrage over police brutality.
The Investigative Committee said it had charged four officers in the Siberian city of Novokuznetsk in the torture death of a detainee. It also leveled new accusations against a police officer in the Volga River city of Kazan who is already in custody on charges of torturing a man to death.
Victims and human rights activists say Russian police routinely use torture to extract false confessions from those they have arbitrarily rounded up. They say police reforms undertaken by President Dmitry Medvedev have failed to stop or even contain police crimes and achieved little beyond changing the force's name.
Kazan resident Sergei Nazarov died earlier this month of injuries suffered when police officers allegedly sodomized him with a champagne bottle. His case has caused outrage across Russia and drawn calls for an urgent overhaul of a force long accused of corruption and brutality.
The four officers charged in Novokuznetsk were accused of causing a detainee's death by asphyxiation by putting a gas mask on him and cutting off the access to air — a torture technique popular among Russian police, according to rights groups.
Police regulations still require officers to report a certain quota of solved crimes, a practice that encourages police to make arbitrary arrests and extract false confessions to make their numbers. Police from across Russia also learned cruel interrogation practices during tours of duty in Chechnya and other restive provinces in Russia's Caucasus, contributing to the culture of brutality.
In the Kazan case, officers rounded up the 52-year-old Nazarov on charges of stealing a cellphone. He died at a local hospital two days later of a ruptured rectum.
His death sparked street protests in Kazan that attracted nationwide attention and led to a federal probe. The investigators arrested five police officers accused of torturing Nazarov, and the entire precinct was disbanded.
Local residents then began lining up to tell federal investigators their stories of torture by police officers.
The Investigative Committee said Thursday that Almaz Vasilov, one of the suspected torturers of Nazarov, has been charged in a separate case when he and other officers tried to force a 20-year-old man to confess in a crime by beating him and then pulling down his pants and trying to sodomize him with a pencil. The committee said the victim managed to avoid the torture by running out into a corridor.
Many others couldn't run away, according to Russian media, which reported the stories of several other victims. In one case, a 22-year-old computer programmer said officers from the same precinct tried to force him to confess to a theft and then sodomized him, first with a pencil, then with a champagne bottle.
"Where is the bottle? You always must have a bottle!" Oskar Krylov recalled a police chief yelling to his subordinates, according to the Gazeta.ru news website.
The Investigative Committee said it had detained that officer and his colleague on charges of torturing Krylov.
The scandal over police torture in Kazan followed other cases of police brutality, some publicized and others previously hushed up or unreported. They include:
— A local journalist in the Siberian city of Tomsk died of injuries in 2010 after a police officer sodomized him with a broomstick.
— A teenager in St. Petersburg was beaten to death in police custody in January.
— In another case in the same region of Siberia as Novokuznetsk, two officers were accused of torturing a detainee to death in a garage and then throwing his body out on a road.
Activists have urged the Kremlin to change regulations that encourage police brutality, oust Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev, conduct a thorough cleansing of the police force and set up a separate independent body to would investigate police crimes.
Alexei Navalny, a popular anti-corruption blogger and a key organizer of massive opposition protests in Moscow, said the government should dismiss all Kazan policemen and recruit new ones as a model of how to conduct a future nationwide reform of the police.
"It can't get any worse," he wrote on his blog. "And they need to throw Nurgaliyev out. How long can it go?"