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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Beat Student for No Passport

Sunil Kataria was not looking for trouble. He only wanted to make a phone call. But no sooner had he entered the Central Telegraph office Tuesday afternoon then a policeman approached him and asked for his documents.

It was not the first time Kataria, a fifth-year Moscow State University student from India, had been asked by authorities to identify himself. It was the first time, however, that the police confiscated his student identity card and beat him up.

Kataria obliged the police by showing his student identification card. But that was not enough. The police then asked to see his passport. When Kataria answered that he did not carry his passport, the policeman started beating him.

"He was literally bashing me, right there in front of everyone" said Kataria, who was accompanied by two fellow Indian students. "I asked to see his superior, and as he was taking me to the militia office he threw me down on the floor and kicked me in the stomach and legs."

Once inside the militia station, the superior informed Kataria that the student card he had been using for identification for the past five years was not enough, and that foreigners had to carry their passports at all times. "He confiscated my student card and told me do svidanya," Kataria said.

Unfortunately, Kataria's case is not an isolated incident. According to Ruben Maye, a human rights lawyer from Equatorial Guinea, many foreigners have experienced unprovoked harassment from the militia at the Central Telegraph.

"They are always confiscating documents from refugees and foreigners there," says Maye, who works for the United Nations High Commisioner for Refugees.

This April, for example, Maye got a call from five refugees from Somalia and Iraq, whose refugee cards -- granted by the Federal Immigration Service -- had been confiscated by the police.

When he went back with them to explain to the militia their legal rights as registered refugees, not only were his defendants arrested, but Maye himself was detained.

"They were very aggressive," recalls Maye. "They pushed me into the militia office and asked why I was defending refugees." When Maye showed them his United Nations badge, the police confiscated it and arrested him.

He was then held on a bus with other detainees for several hours before they called him before the chief and eventually let him go.In Kataria's case, the police claimed he was breaking the law by not carrying his passport. But to verify whether such a law exists is not an easy task. Some militia stations, according to Maye, go by an outdated Soviet law that required foreigners to carry passports at all times.

Others say that the decree signed by Mayor Luzhkov in November of last year -- which instituted a stricter regime for foreigners residing in Moscow -- demands that foreigners must prove their identity and be registered to stay in Moscow.

"The mayor's decree allows the police to determine the identity of the foreigner -- not to beat him" says Alexander Zolin, the deputy of the mayor's legal department.

But it appears to be up to the police to decide what is sufficient identification. "Any decision can be carried out by different means," Zolin said.

"Whether or not foreigners need to carry their passports is a separate issue," said Vladimir Yunin, who investigates complaints against the police at the city prosecutor's office. "In any event, the police were wrong to beat him."

Surprisingly, the policeman on duty at the Central Telegraph office agreed with Yunin.

"We don't have the right to beat someone for no reason," said one policeman who would not give his name. "We can only beat bandits."

It is easy to differentiate between a fifth-year student and a bandit, the policeman said. Kataria was just unlucky.

"Different people are on duty at different times," the policeman said. "He just happened to run into someone who took a dislike to him."