Shadows of people detained by Russian police, suspected of violating immigration rules during an action seen on containers at a street market in Moscow, Russia, August 7, 2013. 

© AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

(Berlin) – Russian police rounded up and arbitrarily detained scores of Central Asian migrant workers, beating many of them, in a series of raids in mid-December 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.

The raids, which were carried out in at least six regions in Russia, involved detentions of migrant workers without legal basis, including some Russian citizens of non-Russian ethnicity. Russian authorities should stop their practice of racial profiling and arbitrary detentions. They should effectively investigate alleged police brutality and appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible.

“Racial profiling, mass detentions, and ill-treatment in police custody of migrant workers and Russians of non-Slavic appearance is unlawful and unjust,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It should stop immediately.”

Kyrgyz media reported on December 12 that Russian police raided a private minibus terminal in Khabarovsk, in Russia’s far east, and detained and beat scores of bus drivers who are migrant workers. Most were from Kyrgyzstan, but some were from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All but two were eventually released.

Valentina Chupik, a human rights defender who runs a hotline for migrants, said police rounded them up and took them to a police station “for identity checks” without further explanation. One of those detained told Kyrgyz media that they were loaded onto two buses and taken to the police station, where police covered up surveillance cameras, swore at them, and beat them with police batons and truncheons. He also alleged that police confiscated their passports and valuables, most of which were not returned. Several other detainees gave similar descriptions to other media outlets.

The Kyrgyz Embassy in Moscow told Human Rights Watch that it had received complaints and requests for assistance from 18 Kyrgyz citizens. The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry issued a protest about the incident, which stated that Russian officials had assured Kyrgyz authorities that the episode would be investigated. The Kyrgyz National Information Agency reported that two Kyrgyz nationals were hospitalized as a result of mistreatment.

Chupik said that a total of about 80 Kyrgyz nationals were detained and beaten. They were held until the following morning, in violation of the Russian law. Under Russian law, police may detain a person for an identification check if there are grounds to believe they have been involved in an offense or if they match a police description of a criminal suspect.  

Both Kyrgyz and Tajik media published photos of the some of the men’s injuries, including multiple large bruises, some of them appearing to be in the shape of a truncheon or a police baton.

Chupik said that after the men were released and returned to the bus terminal, they sought medical assistance. Ambulances arrived, but when they explained what had happened to them, the medics refused to hospitalize them due to their lack of documents. Two of them were hospitalized a day later, after media reports started emerging.

The Tajik Embassy in Moscow told Human Rights Watch that two Tajik citizens remain in detention for allegedly overstaying their visas in Russia.

Chupik also said that since the end of November she had received reports of similar police raids in other regions that led to the detention of at least several hundred migrants. Most were eventually freed, though some were deported. 

On December 11, Special Police Forces in the Samara region, not far from the Russia-Kazakhstan border, conducted a joint raid with migration and traffic police. A man who was detained during the raid told Human Rights Watch that police stopped cars on a federal road heading toward the border and took both the drivers and passengers of non-Slavic appearance to a nearby rest stop.

The man said that he and others with a non-Slavic appearance were detained at around 6 a.m. During the two hours he was held at the rest stop, police brought more than 100 people there. He said about 60 were still being held when he was released.  

The man said that the police ordered the people being detained not to use their phones or talk to one another. He asked an officer who seemed to be in charge why they were being detained and whether he could record the answer with his camera. He said that an officer responded by taking him to an adjacent room, where three police officers beat and used an electroshock weapon on him. Human Rights Watch saw photos of marks from what appear to be burns on the man’s arm and leg. The police referred to him and the other detainees as a racial slur, he said. He said he saw the police beat others after they tried to use their phones to record what was happening.

Chupik said that as a result of this operation, she received reports that 5 people sought medical assistance and 2 of them had fractured ribs, 2 had concussions, and 1 had a fractured hip. She said that most of those detained were Uzbek nationals.

Chupik said that between December 11 and 15 alone, she also learned about police raids in Saratov, Orenburg, Tosno (in the Leningrad region), and in a district of Moscow, resulting in the detention of well over 300 people. Most were migrant workers, although in one raid many of the detainees were Russian citizens of Kazakh ethnicity. Some were held up to 20 hours, according to her.

In the Tosno raid, Chupik said, police allegedly rounded up more than 100 people and kept them in police buses without heat, access to a toilet, drinking water, or food overnight before releasing them.

Special police operations in Russia target non-Slavic migrants regularly. Human Rights Watch said that since there is no transparency about what instructions police receive, it is difficult to assess the compliance of the guidelines the police officers receive with Russian law and applicable international human rights standards.

Racial profiling, arbitrary detention, and the use of inhuman and degrading treatment against detainees violate Russia’s laws and international legal obligations. The ban on racial or ethnic discrimination is enshrined in Russian law and key human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Russia is a party.

“Non-Slavic migrants are some of the most vulnerable and voiceless people in Russia today,” Williamson said. “More public oversight and greater transparency is needed to prevent the police abuse and discrimination that was reported over the past few weeks.”