“Face the Wall, Don’t Look Down”: Solidarity Becomes a Criminal Act in Moscow

A view of the entrance to Open Space Moscow. Photo courtesy of Mediazona

On the evening of November 24, masked security forces officers broke into Open Space in Moscow, where fifty people had gathered to support the anarchists arrested in the Tyumen Case and write postcards to political prisoners. The security forces, who were probably commanded by a colonel from Center “E”, made the visitors lie down on the floor or stood them facing the wall and held them for several hours, beating some of them. They didn’t let a lawyer inside.

On November 24, an evening of solidarity for the defendants in the Tyumen Case took place in Open Space, a co-working space for activists in Moscow’s Basmanny District. Six anarchists from Tyumen, Surgut and Yekaterinburg have been arrested and charged with organizing a “terrorist community,” and all of them have said they were tortured.

The event was open to the public and had been advertised, for example, by the online magazine DOXA. (Recently, State Duma deputies demanded that the magazine be designated an “extremist organization.”)

The event started around six o’clock, and about forty to fifty people were in attendance, says one of the participants. Some eyewitnesses say that before the security forces arrived, they signed postcards in support of political prisoners, while others said that they recited or listened to poetry. In any case, when an intermission was announced, the guests went outside to smoke — and at that moment a paddy wagon drove up to the building, and masked security forces officers stormed the venue.

Video footage of the beginning of the raid, which the SOTAvision journalist Ksenia Tamurka managed to shoot before she was detained, shows that the masked security forces officers behaved in a demonstratively rough manner. They shouted, kicked over furniture, and knocked the phone out of the correspondent’s hands. After the phone falls, the sounds of blows and shouts are audible in the footage: “Hands behind your head!”, “Legs wider!”, “Face the wall, don’t look down!”

The security forces officers forced some of the young people to lie down on the floor, while they made the rest of them, including the young women, stand facing the wall, forbidding them to move. A young woman who had left the event during the break and unhappily returned to retrieve a tote bag she had forgotten told SOTA that she stood facing the wall for about an hour.

“When I turned my head, I was told to keep facing the wall. An hour later, they apparently took out my passport from my tote bag and summoned me to another room, where most everyone was lying face down on the floor. I sat down and we waited further. Then after, I don’t know, thirty minutes, I was summoned by other Russian National Guard officers. They asked me where my phone was, and I showed them. They asked me to unlock it, but I said no, citing Article 23 [of the Russian Constitution, which enshrines the right to privacy]. They were like no, you’re going to unlock it. And when I had already sat down, there was already a young female journalist after me, and she refused to show them her phone. They dragged her by the hair and she screamed,” the young woman said.

After what she saw, the young woman agreed to unlock the phone, and the security forces wrote down its IMEI. Another woman, who attended event with a child, said that the security forces officers demanded that she show them her Telegram chats and latest bank transfers to find out “whether she sponsored terrorism.”

The young woman who was screaming was SOTA journalist Ksenia Tamurka. The media outlet has not yet published the commentary of the journalist herself. One of the detainees recounted the assault on Tamurka as told by another eyewitness; another young man heard the journalist screaming, although he was in another room.

He said that the security forces treated the young men in various ways: in his opinion, it largely depended on the length of their hair. The young man pointed out that the security forces also detained members of Narcotics Anonymous, whose meeting was going on in the next room. “And when they were asked what they were doing there, they said, We are drug addicts, we don’t know anyone here! Then they were taken away from where we were, and [the police] talked to them separately,” he recalled.

At some point, the security forces perhaps began to behave a little less harshly. In video footage recorded a few hours after the start of the search, it is clear that the detainees were no longer pressed against the wall, but were simply looking at it. The security forces did not detain the journalists who shot the video, but, according to a Sota correspondent, they did drag a passerby inside the building after he looked in the window.

The security forces did not let the lawyer Leysan Mannapova, who arrived at the scene of the raid, inside the building, claiming that her warrant was incorrectly executed. A man who came to rescue his fourteen-year-old brother also failed to get inside the building.

The detainees were loaded into the paddy wagon only a few hours later, and the minors among them were released along the way. The rest were brought to the Basmanny police department.

One of them said that she and four young men were beaten at the station. According to the young woman, the security forces officers “struck her when she was lying on the floor.” One detainee was “beaten with a baton and a book,” and another young man was “thrown on a chair and kicked.” According to her, the police found a balaclava, an emergency hammer from a bus, and a traumatic pistol, which he had a permit to carry, on one of the men who was beaten.

Another young woman could not recall beatings and said only that the detainees wrote statements at the police department “about what they actually did.” Alexei Melnikov, a member of the Public Monitoring Commission who was recently appointed to the Presidential Human Rights Council, went inside the department and saw the detainees while they were making their statements, but also made no mention of possible violence.

The detainees were released from the department around two o’clock in the morning. None of them reported that they were forced to sign any documents other than their statements. Tamurka left the department last, around four in the morning.

Golos coordinator Vladimir Yegorov identified the colonel from Center “E” in video footage of the security forces escorting the detainees to the paddy wagon. According to Yegorov, he was beaten during a search of the Golos office on October 5 on the colonel’s orders. Yegorov does not know the policeman’s name, because it was not listed in the search report. According to SOTA, the masked security officers accompanying the colonel at Open Space serve in the second field regiment of the Interior Ministry’s Moscow Main Directorate.

Correction (7 p.m., November 25): The article originally stated that the journalist Ksenia Tamurka left the police department along with the other detainees around two o’clock in the morning. SOTAvision later clarified that she came out last, around four o’clock in the morning.

Source: Nikita Sologub, “‘Face the wall, don’t look down’: security forces raid solidarity event for defendants in Tyumen Case,” Mediazona, 25 November 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader. This is the second part of a two-part feature on the 24 November raid on Open Space Moscow. You can read part one — journalist Ksenia Tamurka’s first-person account of the incident — here.

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