In February 2012, just a few hours after having been taken into custody by the police for being drunk in public, Pavel Drozdov died from a disease in the Russian city of Kazan. At least, that was the official version of his death, before the emergence of a surveillance video that appears to contradict the police.
Drozdov, 45, was a father of four and the director of a local technical school. He was taken into custody on February 1 following a bar brawl. A few hours after arriving in jail, a doctor declared that he died of acute pancreatitis. The police later said they had tried to administer first aid, but did not succeed in reviving him.
However, when Drozdov’s family went to see his body in the morgue, they noticed bruises on his wrists and his ankles, as well as scratches on his skin. A preliminary investigation concluded that these were not inflicted during his detention, and so the authorities refused to open a criminal investigation.
More than eight months after his death, Andrey Suchkov, the family’s lawyer, was finally able to get a copy of the security camera footage from Drozdov’s jail cell. He was shocked by what he saw.
In the video, which was edited for length and distributed by the Kazan Centre for Human Rights, Drozdov at first appears calm as he sits on a bench. A few minutes later, he gets up and appears to converse with policemen outside his cell. Five policemen then enter his cell. He tries to move away from them, but they push him to the ground and hit him. They handcuff his hands, bind his ankles, and tie them to each other in his back. This from of torture is known as the “swallow” position, and is intended to inflict severe pain in the joints. The policemen then leave the cell. At 10 minutes and 30 seconds into the video, a policeman comes back and unties his hands from his ankles. A little later, two more arrive, and untie him completely. At this point, he appears unconscious. A man turns him over on his back to take his pulse, then leaves. His body stays limp. He is later carried out of his cell.
After local rights groups released this video, the authorities agreed to re-open their preliminary investigation, but not launch a criminal investigation. According to Russian media, one of the policemen present at the jail on the day of Drozdov’s death hung himself two months later.
This scandal comes on the heels of another incident in Kazan that shocked the nation last March: a man died after having been beaten and raped with an object in a local police station. Two policemen have been given prison sentences and nine others are still awaiting trial in this case.
Kazan, located about 800 kilometres east of Moscow, is the capital of the Russian republic of Tatarstan. It is often called the "third capital" of Russia, behind Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

“A criminal investigation is needed to establish the reasons of his death”

Igor Sholokhov is the director of the Kazan Centre for Human Rights.
We want the authorities to open a criminal investigation. For the moment, they’ve refused, but we hope that this video will change their minds. This would allow for experts to weigh in and establish a link between the policemen’s behaviour and Drozdov’s death.
Most detention cells are equipped with security cameras. Those in charge of the preliminary investigation had access to this video from the very beginning. However, our lawyer was only able to see it once the case was closed. He made a copy of the video and published it on the Internet.
Usually, this form of torture does not kill people – otherwise, we would have a massacre on our hands, as “the swallow” is practiced all over Russia. Several other factors contributed to Drozdov’s death. He was drunk, he had heart problems and he was indeed suffering from pancreatitis. However, the torture they put him through no doubt made things worse and ended up killing him. A criminal investigation is needed to establish this clearly.
Our organisation has looking at these types of cases in the Russian republic of Tatarstan since 2003. During this decade, 30 policemen have been convicted on charges of torture. Unfortunately, the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Even after the scandal in March and the firing of several police officers, it seems the authorities still haven’t learned their lesson.