Friday, October 05, 2007

Russia Should Rethink Use of Youth Groups to Police Protests

MOSCOW - October 5 – Russian police should rethink the use of police volunteers from pro-Kremlin youth groups, Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent to the Minister of the Interior today. At a minimum, the police should ensure accountability for the volunteers’ actions before proceeding with their use.

According to recent news reports, Moscow city police have recruited volunteers from the pro-Kremlin youth group “Nashi” (Ours) to patrol Moscow streets, including at demonstrations and opposition events. Members of Nashi have stated that they will mobilize Nashi patrols to prevent “destabilization” of the country from opposition groups.

“Nashi is no neutral group,” said Holly Cartner, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Our fear is that instead of keeping order, Nashi will try to silence critics.”

Nashi has stated that it will deploy police volunteers to an opposition event planned for Sunday, October 7, 2007. Members of the Russian People’s Democratic Union have announced plans to hold a public meeting of the “Dissenters’” March. The Moscow Mayor’s Office issued a permit for the meeting to be held at Pushkin Square in Moscow on the afternoon of October 7.

Human Rights Watch said that police volunteers do not have the right to use force or to detain people, and if they do, it’s a crime. If police give volunteers special authority, they must do so in accordance with the law, and volunteers are bound by the same rules as the police.

In the past year, police in Moscow and other cities around Russia have used disproportionate force to violently disperse the peaceful Dissenters’ Marches.

Federal Migration Service officials have also used youth group members for law enforcement purposes. They announced that on September 15 they enlisted members of a nationalist youth group called “Mestnye” (Locals) to seek out and detain migrants, whom they alleged were working illegally at Moscow’s busy Yaroslavskii market.

In the letter, Human Rights Watch urged the police not to use volunteers in this manner, and reminded them that, if they did, they must take measures to ensure transparency and accountability for any powers given to Nashi volunteers.

“Police using volunteers need to ensure they are held accountable for their actions,” Cartner said. “Police need to take steps to prevent the unlawful use of force or vigilante-style justice by its volunteers and investigate any complaints about their actions.”


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