A Russian police officer, who publicly accused his bosses of corruption and abuse of office, has been arrested and charged with - corruption and abuse of office.
Alexei Dymovsky, a former police major in the Black Sea port city of Novorossisk, became a household name last November when he posted a videotaped open letter to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on his Website complaining of inhuman working conditions, indifference to civil rights, widespread graft, and routine abuse of authority within his police department.
The video was a hit on YouTube, garnering more than a million hits, and it inspired dozens of other police officers around Russia to come forward with similar allegations. (The version below has English subtitles.)
Mr. Dymovsky was swiftly fired from his job and last Friday he was arrested and taken to a police detention center in Novorossisk, on charges that appear to stem from his videotaped confessions.
Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the official investigative committee in Krasondar territory, told journalists only that "Dymovsky is charged with committing fraud and abusing his official position." But Russian media have reported that he is accused of misappropriating approximately $800 in police operating expenses several years ago.
According to the official RIA-Novosti agency, he could receive 10 years in prison if convicted.
"We believe Dymovsky is being persecuted because he is a whistleblower; he was working inside the police system and then began to criticize it," says Vadim Karastelev, representative of the Novorossisk Human Rights Committee, a local group. "It is an act of intimidation directed at him and anyone else who might think of following his example," he says.
Local human rights activists say they are fearful for Dymovsky's safety after a judge in Novorossisk ignored Dymovsk's promise not to flee the region and ordered him held in a pre-trial detention center.
Conditions in Russia's vast system of detention facilities, which house hundreds of thousands of temporary inmates, have come under intense scrutiny. Late last year Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer involved in a massive corruption lawsuit against the police, died in custody after being denied medical treatment.
Some human rights experts allege that withholding care is sometimes part of the interrogation technique in detention centers.
"The police are commonly viewed by Russians as a threat rather than a force that's there to protect them," says Masha Lipman, editor of the Pro et Contra journal, which is published by the Moscow Carnegie Center. "It would be hard to find a single Russian who doesn't believe the police are corrupt."
Dymovsky's YouTube confession received widespread coverage by the Russian state-run media, including the English language Russia Today.
Ms. Lipman cautions that the widespread coverage of these stories may not be a case of media freedom breaking out in Russia, but rather due to the fact that Kremlin authorities are currently trying to press through reforms of the Interior Ministry, which runs the police and prison system. "This story, for the moment, coincides with the government's wishes," she says. "The government has the luxury of picking those expressions of discontent that fit in with its own plans."
The arrest of Dymovsky, and the potentially harsh sentence he faces, may represent the Interior Ministry's response to the official pressure to reform themselves, say some experts. "Dymovsky's case is really strange," says Lev Ponomaryov, a veteran Russian human rights campaigner. "On first, second, and third viewing, it looks like pure (police) revenge."