Russia - Brutal attack by police on documentary filmmaker and her family

    MONTREAL, Oct. 25 /CNW Telbec/ - On the eve of an EU-Russia summit in
Mafra (Portugal), Reporters Without Borders today condemned an assault on
documentary filmmaker Natalia Petrova and her family by plain-clothes police
in the Tatar capital of Kazan, 720 km east of Moscow, on 6 September as
"horrible and incomprehensible" and demanded an immediate investigation to
identify and punish those responsible.
    "It is no longer possible for the authorities to ignore what happened,
and if Natalia Petrova or her family are the victims of reprisals again, we
will regard the government as an accomplice," the press freedom organisation
said. "As President Putin's term of office draws to a close, we see that
violence against journalists has not been stopped and there are regions where
total impunity prevails."
    The direct cause of the attack on Petrova is hard to establish. According
to an unconfirmed reported on a Tatar news agency's website, she allegedly
opposed a summons to go to a police station to answer a charge of defamation.
    There appear to be several underlying factors. Andrey Mironov of the
organisation Memorial, who met her in Chechnya, is convinced she was attacked
because of her work and the films she has made, and because she is married to
a man of Chechen origin. Her husband had to move away from the family because
he was exposing them to threats. Their nine-year-old twin daughters were
attacked several times at school because of his origin.
    Mironov says what has changed is the government's attitude to members of
civil society. "We are witnessing a clear increase in pressure and
harassment," he said.
    The assault on Petrova began outside her daughters' school after she had
taken them there. She thought she was being kidnapped when two men, one
smelling strongly of alcohol, grabbed her and told her they were going to put
her in a psychiatric hospital until the elections were over. She managed to
get away and ran home, where she found her mother, Nina Petrova, 70. She tried
to phone the police but the line had been disconnected. She finally asked her
father, Gennadi Petrov, 84, to fetch the girls from school.
    When her father came back with the girls a few hours later, three
plain-clothes policemen entered the apartment and attacked her. They hit her
repeatedly in the neck, hands and legs. One of them stamped on her hands,
saying: "This way, you won't be able to write any more." They hit her until
she lost consciousness.
    In the meantime, her father had been pushed into a corner of the room
while her mother, who tried to get between her daughter and her assailants,
has sustained several blows to her stomach and other parts of her body. Her
daughters had also been manhandled when they tried to defend her and one of
them lost a tooth.
    During the attack, the three policemen made phone calls to a man called
"Slava" (the diminutive of Viacheslav), who gave them orders and told them
"reinforcements" were on the way. They then handcuffed Petrova and dragged her
outside. Alerted by the cries, neighbours tried in vain to protest. One of
them called an ambulance but the policemen sent it away, claiming there had
been a "false alarm."
    Petrova was thrown into a police car parked in front of the building.
They continued to hit her and then to burn her with cigarettes. After losing
consciousness again, she found herself in the courtyard of the headquarters of
the Moskovsky district police in Kazan. She spent several hours in a cell and
was then released.
    When contacted by Reporters Without Borders, Petrova was very worried
about the safety of herself and her family. She continues to get threatening
phone calls. Her daughters are traumatised by what happened to their mother
and refuse to go out or go to school. One of them is in bed with a high fever.
Her grandmother is also confined to her bed and is still suffering from the
blows she received.
    Petrova said she recognised the voice of the man who was giving orders to
her assailants by phone. It was Viacheslav Prokofiev, the head of the local
police department. She already had contact with him in 2005, during a
presidential summit in Kazan. Two men tried to drag her away with them as she
was waiting for a bus to go to the summit. A criminal investigation was
opened, but yielded nothing.
    Petrova worked in Chechnya during the first war there. She has also
worked in Abkhazia and Karabakh. She said she thought she would find peace in
Tatarstan but discovered she was wrong. "How much do we have to experience
before we finally realise what is going on?" she said. "His men were laughing
while they were hitting me." She insisted that what had happened to her should
be made public, not just for her own sake but also for the sake of all the
others who have experienced the same kind of violence.

    Petrova, whose films include "Abkhazia mon amour," "Children of Karabakh"
and "Ancient land of the Chechens," has been exposed to many other forms of
harassment in recent years.

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, secretary general, Reporters
Without Borders Canada, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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