MOSCOW — Two police officers in Kazan, Russia, were sentenced to less than three years in prison Tuesday after the first convictions in a high-profile case that involved the illegal detention and death of a resident.
Human rights activists complained that the sentences were too short to discourage abuses by police.
Officers Ilshat Garifullin and Ramil Nigmatzyanov received sentences of 2 1/2 and two years, respectively, for exceeding their authority after the court determined that they illegally arrested Sergei Nazarov on March 9. Investigators allege that on the night of the arrest, Nazarov, 52, was beaten and sexually assaulted by colleagues of the two officers. He died the next day after being hospitalized.
"If precinct officers Garifullin and Nigmatzyanov hadn't unlawfully detained Sergei Nazarov, the tragedy wouldn't have happened," said a statement on the website of the Russian Investigative Committee, the main national investigation body.
The inquiry exposed 17 other instances of alleged crimes committed by officers of the Dalny police station in recent years, the statement said, with 13 additional victims found and more than 200 witnesses questioned. The station has since been disbanded, and the interior minister of Tatarstan republic resigned.
Eight other officers are facing various charges, some related to the death of Nazarov.
"We have exposed the entire criminal vertical chain from rank-and-file officers to their chiefs," Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Investigative Committee, said on the Russia 24 news network. "Illegal detentions, the beating out of testimony and other crimes had become almost a norm for this [police] department."
Markin said it was "just the beginning" for purging police ranks.
But human rights activists said the relatively light sentences given Tuesday sent the wrong message in the face of continual abuses.
"People have long stopped trusting the police, and for many of them this ridiculous verdict kills the last hope to get real justice in Russia," said Valery Borshchev, an advisor to the Russian president's envoy on human rights, said. "People increasingly see that our courts and judges can't protect them from lawlessness and they may soon start resorting to other ways to get vengeance."
About 60,000 complaints are filed each year by people alleging police brutality, but few cases end up in court, said Igor Kalyapin, chairman of the Inter-regional Committee Against Torture.
"Now police know that all the earlier proclaimed reforms of their agency are over and done with, and they get even more arrogant by the day in their impunity," said Kalyapin, whose human rights group is based in Nizhny Novgorod but monitors abuses nationwide. "The toughness with which the police cracked down on the opposition rallies earlier this year on the Kremlin's orders clearly indicated to law enforcement that the violation of human rights may go unpunished.
"Today's sentencing is absurdly soft," he said, "but thousands of other violent crimes committed by the police never reach courts at all and thousands more remain unreported by victims who are scared to complain."