Documentary journalist Natalia Petrova and her family were beaten roughly in Kazan in September 2007. A reservation must be made that this incident has been ascribed with many “truths”. Well, on the whole there are two truths: the one by the victim who presents references from traumatology centers and the truth by law enforcement bodies proved by evidence by supporters of the police model of the state, the model where a representative of the law enforcement agency has the right to maim a person just for the hell of it because this person was announced from above to be disloyal. And after that the person is charged with deforcement and has the criminal case started against oneself as it happened to Petrova. Novaya Gazeta has attempted to see into this case.
Documentary journalist Natalia Petrova was well-known in Nagorno-Karabakh and Chechnya thanks to her sharp documentary about children-refugees in the first Republic and sensational interview with Jokhar Dudaev in the second Republic. She was one of the first who managed to enter home of the Ichkeria’s leader as a journalist. She graduated from Kazan University where she started teaching afterwards. Till the end of 1990 she worked the editor of programs for the youth at Kazan television. In 1991 with the request from Elena Bonner she took the video cam and went to the agitated Karabakh. In the thick of the civil war she pictured children who lived in the extreme conditions of blockade. She returned back home with a heavy wound. Having recovered, she then went to Chechnya.
“I got then keenly interested in interethnic issues. I wondered how it could be that people having two hands and two legs each, can have so many barriers between them just because of the ethnicity” she says.
She wasn’t just a military journalist in Chechnya and Karabakh. She took out war prisoners from the Republic – she proudly recalls first 19 saved people. She carried out talks and investigated circumstances of the death of Nadejda Chaikova who was killed in Chechnya in March 1996. Nadejda Chaikova was a journalist from Obshaya Gazeta (fittingly General Newspaper). By 1997 Natalia Petrova and her husband Ruslan Umarov had finished editing the documentary titled Ancient Land of Chechens. That documentary film was awarded with Grand Prix from German Cinematographic Academy.
“I got acquainted with Natasha long ago. It was November 1990 when I went to Nagorno-Karabakh as a correspondent. Natalia Petrova was there too. She carried a heavy video cam around filming Karabakh’s children” tells the head of Civic Assistance Society Svetlana Gannushkina.
In 1998 Natalia Petrova gave birth to twins Masha and Nelly. Some while after, her husband Ruslan Umarov left the family. No one knows where he is now. Probably, he got back to Chechnya. Ruslan is a signaler by training but during the war in the Republic he turned into a journalist. He worked with Natalia and was co-author of the documentary recognized in Germany. They both nearly died in autumn 1996 when eight armed and masked men got on them near the Chechen settlement of Bamut. Natalia thinks it were same people who killed her friend Nadejda Chaikova.
“It was first attack against me in Chechnya. The struggle lasted about 20 minutes. My cameraman was beating off with his legs protecting me with one hand and protecting the video cam with the other. I fought too. Suddenly the white kerchief dropped from my head into the mud. That made a great impression on the locals who ran to help us having heard our cries for help. So they rushed on the attackers and those disappeared immediately” recalls Natalia.
Head of public organization Echo of War Zainab Gashaeva met Petrova in 1996. “This is the woman who has done a lot for us. She was willing to speak openly about Chechen problems” said Zainab on the phone.
Fatima Gadieva, worker of same organization added “During and after the war she came to Chechen Republic. Not everyone dared to do it that time. She is a very brave woman and journalist”.
After children’s birth Natalia’s trips to Caucasus became less frequent while her activity in native town increased. In 1997 she registered her own independent TV agency Runa. As a correspondent, she was present at many conferences where she asked questions compromising authorities. Colleagues recall that she had no fear especially when the talk was about “her” topic of interethnic relations. She was offended by statement by Putin when he visited Kazan and when he said there are two titular ethnic groups in the country – Russians and Tatars.
“And what about others? Don’t they have any rights? Words by the head of state freed Russian “patriots’ ” hands in discrimination of national minorities” believes Petrova.
She asked such questions to authorities and charged high ranking officials with infringement on the rights of Tatar Republic’s citizens. In 2005, on the eve of celebration of thousandth anniversary of Kazan Chechens had especially hard times. Svetlana Gannushkina says the situation had aggravated by then.
“What was being done was absolutely scandalous. It was a campaign of exclusion of Chechens with all legal and illegal ways. That’s the true. And Natalia’s children are Chechens” tells Svetlana Alekseevna.
“Actually, it’s not everyone who can see Chechen blood in my daughters” tells Natalia. “But section ‘Parents’ in their birth certificate told for itself. They started to have problems at school. We had to change several schools where my children were discriminated as Chechens.”
In the last school, #164, there was a conflict with the principle. Natalia affirms her children were beaten. She presents two health certificates dated 13 April 2007. Nelly had “soft tissue bruise in the field of shoulder joints” while Masha had bruise under the left shoulder. Petrova applied to the Prosecutor’s Office and got summoned to court being charged with slander.
But all that was later. In 2005 Natalia continued working as a journalist and independent documentary film maker. That year she became Bureau Director of information agency Eurasia in Volga region. That time, phone calls with life threats and “tough” conversations in the local police stations got more frequent with her. First serious attack happened 19 January 2005. A few people in civilian dress waited for her at the entrance to her block of flats. They beat her hardly then pushed her into a SUV of UAZ model and brought her to Vakhitovsky police station. From there she was taken to the judge. They wanted her to sign some clean sheets of paper but she refused.
“They brought me outside bleeding and in worn clothes. They said they would take me to court. My father came running. He called the ambulance. In the hospital of sanitary-medical aid I was diagnosed brain concussion and numerous bruises in the small of my back” recalls Natalia.
That time Petrova decided not to suit against law enforcement bodies. First, she considered it useless and, second, she was busy with her job and children. Now she is sorry she didn’t suit.
That’s the prehistory. So what happened in September 2007?
4 September Natasha returned with her children from Abkhazia where she had been shooting another documentary. She brought a “trophy” from there. It is the Tkuarchal flag of Georgian-Abkhazian conflict times, a bit burnt and bearing holes from numerous bullets.
“Only 9 people including me possess such a flag. I was presented it after filming was over” says Natasha taking the flag out of the bag. She continues to tell while we are examining the flag.
6 September three men in civilian dress rushed into the journalist’s flat. They hit her on the neck and twisted her arms. Later the official resource of the Republic named Tatar-inform would call it a special operation about detention of a pseudo-journalist who was charged with slander. Prosecutor’s Office would start a criminal case against her for beating the enforcing officers.
But at that moment beaten were Natalia, her daughters and her aged parents. Officers hit professionally with the back of the hand so that no bruises be left. The 70-year-old father was driven into the corner and they teased him “Come on, beat us, old buffer”. 9-year-old Masha was beaten her tooth out.
“They twisted the arm and started beating. They said to my mother ‘your daughter is a criminal; she’s on the international wanting list’. I fell right on my daughter and they leaned all their weight upon us. My daughter bellowed. Realizing that I could crush my own child gave me some strength. I told to her ‘Masha, get out from under me’. We began to take them off ourselves, those two strong drunken men” tells Natasha crying. “They were beating me with everything you name. It’s not enough that they were doing it before my mother’s and children’s eyes. When my hands were free they trod on my fingers saying ‘you won’t write anymore’.”
After the operative officers “won” they dragged her out to the cement floor of the stairway enclosure having put two handcuffs on her. They kicked her every time they saw her raise her head. Then they hurled her into the lift. She vomited and fell unconscious. She came to herself in the yard where people crowded. Some of her colleagues-journalists called the ambulance. It came soon but the militia officers didn’t allow doctors to examine Natalia saying it was a false call.
Law enforcement bodies present their own official account.
“All what happened there and all what was said to her after detention and bringing her to the court, had no relation to her professional activity. No one in Tatarstan even knows that she is a journalist” said spokesperson of UVD of Kazan Igor Silko.
24 July Petrova had been announced to be wanted, allegedly for failing to appear at the court proceedings about the case of slander (see above). Natalia affirms she didn’t get a single writ or notice. Mr Silko says that 6 September operative officers were sent to take her to the court forcibly. The woman resisted and beat three (!) men. Nevertheless, Petrova was brought to the militia station and then to the court. What happened next either UVD spokesperson or even chief of the CID of the Moscow District of Kazan City failed to account clearly.
Natalia tells. Having put her into the militia car, they brought her to the militia station of Moscow District. They dropped her on the floor and kicked. They put out the cigarette butts on her skin. Falling unconscious again she heard a dialogue “How is she?” “Well, she is finished” “Is she dead?” “Not yet”. Then Natalia went out.
She came to again in the militia car. Other people in uniform were driving her along a wood road. They were arguing to leave the journalist right there or to take her into town. Realizing that she wouldn’t last long without aid, one the officers didn’t want to take a sin upon his soul. So they came to town. Natalia remembers they came to some yard. She was put on a bench and asked to sign something. Being refused they put some piece of paper into her pocket. Later it was established that it was the summons. No one knows what happened next, but by some miracle Natalia got to hospital.
There she was diagnosed grave brain concussion and numerous bruises on the body(Novaya Gazeta disposes of the medical report). At the same time the record of calls of the ambulance car #257 dated 6 September says the following – the call was made from district militia station of Kazan. “N.V.Petrova has been diagnosed hysteria and alcohol intoxication. Inadequate and aggressive behavior. Skin and osteoarticular apparatus not damaged”. Natalia affirms doctors didn’t even come to the cell where she was kept. So diagnosing was made just by eye?
“I was drunk? That’s scandalous! How could I be drunk when I was going to take my children to school when they detained me? That’s militia officers who were drunk. My father came to chief of CID Prokofyev and demanded them to be examined. But he was just thrown out of the room. How can they be so impudent? ” Natalia says indignantly.
Talking of Prokofyev. It was not accidentally that the journalist’s father came exactly to him to get explanations. In August 2005, after the first mentioned attack against Petrova, the summit of four was held in Kazan with participation of Nazarbaev, Putin, Lukashenko and Yushenko. Natalia was accredited there from Eurasia agency. On her way to the press center she was stopped by people in civilian dress and asked to get in their car. As she refused, they had to call their boss and he demanded Natalia to obey. He refused to explain the reason for detention, but he gave his name. It was Vyacheslav Vladimirovich Prokofyev, chief of CID of Moscow District of Kazan City. 6 September 2007 Natalia heard his voice from the transmitter of one of the militia officers during “special operation” about her detention.
“He was giving instructions of how, in which parts of body and how long to beat me. Men asked him repeatedly ‘Slava, what’s next?’ and he told them how to beat” recalls Natalia.
When Natalia’s father came to Prokofyev that day he asked him a question “what have you done to my family?” Prokofyev answered “Your daughter knows too much. She is on international wanting list, so I can do with her anything”.
“They gave no explanations. If they had posed any charges, had shown their service certificates and had explained everything that would have been the order accepted in a normal non-police state” retorts Natalia.
We managed to call to Mr Prokofyev who really turned out to be chief of district CID.
“There has been fanning about nothing. She could have come with them to the court and settled all questions. I don’t even understand why she behave the way she did” he said to the Novaya.
Answering the question if the militia officers were drunk Prokofyev said “They are Muslims and they never take alcohol. When a woman is beating a man, he cannot beat her back. But what happened, just happened. The officers did their job” with that he hanged up.
Then events developed as to follow. Fearing for her life, on Saturday 2 November French journalists acting together with Moscow civil rights advocates took Petrova with the children secretly out of Kazan. Now she is receiving out-patient treatment at the hospital after Burdenko where the diagnosis of brain concussion was confirmed. She has been waiting for response from the countries where documents were sent applying for getting refugee status for her. She is scared of returning to Kazan.
“I thought before that I would struggle against this arbitrary rule and stand for my civic rights. Now I am scared and I am willing to leave for any country where my children will get education and will be secured” Natasha says sitting in a small room of Moscow five-story block of flats of Khrushchev era.
Meanwhile, Russian media just ignore this story. Natalia’s colleagues consider it that they are just afraid. It’s the official Tatar media that got to act after the attack done. 20 October official agency Tatar-inform – where Natalia worked in 90’s – published an article about the “pseudo-journalist who beat brutally militia officers”. A day before, the criminal case was started against Natalia and her family including her 9-year-old daughters. The case was started on the ground of Clause 318 of Criminal Code of the Russian Federation; this is resistance to enforcing officers. When 2 November policemen came to hand her summons Natalia just didn’t open the door being scared of the repetition.
It’s really scaring to return to Kazan. Beside all other things, Natalia has been announced unofficially to be insane. Deputy Chief of information and public relations department at MVD of Tatarstan Andrei Galiakberov said to Novaya Gazeta “Her mental condition gives rise to doubts about her legal capacity”.
Natalia is not the “town’s madwoman” or crazy oppositionist as she is painted by official Tatar media. She composes great lyrics and she recalls bitterly the persecution made against her. She just asked tabooed questions and annoyed authorities.
“It grieves me to see such treatment of people who tell about the truth. Tell her we support her and we are willing to stand for her interests when necessary” Zainab Ganasheva asked me on the phone.
Civic Assistance society and several foreign organizations like Reporters Without Borders have also undertaken to defend Natalia Petrova’s interests.
“What happened in Kazan and what is happening there now is a real example of Russia’s general condition. We do not consider it that the attacks against Natalia were related directly to her journalist’s activity. But they were related to the fact she has conscientious civic attitude” says Elsa Vital, chief of the Russia’s program of the Reporters Without Borders. “It’s a pity that people in Russia think such attacks to be normal. Yes, a criminal case had been started against Natalia Petrova about slander. But that does not justify actions by the militia. We are willing to aid her in any way if she wants to leave the Republic of Tatarstan”.
Ms Vital said to the point that many people in Russia think all what happened is normal. Of course, their brains are washed with the impudent lie by official media. Authorities just point who is to be considered a criminal and then enforcing bodies catch and “deactivate” those people. That’s a set scheme, and that’s the way of our life.