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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Caught in an Undercover Drug Sweep

Staff Writers

George Blemu, a Guinean-born Russian citizen and father of three, has been attacked five times in the past two years in Moscow. But those attacks seem trivial compared with what happened to him June 8.

That evening, he said, four armed men in civilian clothing who did not identify themselves forced their way into his seventh-floor apartment and, shouting racist slurs, shot and stabbed him and beat other members of his family.

Only after calling the police did the family understand that the attackers were officers from the Moscow anti-drug squad. They had come to arrest another African who rented an apartment with the same entry on Ulitsa Polbina, in the Pechatniki district in southeast Moscow, where Blemu lives with his Russian wife and children.

Black people in Russia often report that they have to put up with open racism -- from jokes to harassment to robbery and physical violence -- not only from civilians but also from police. And despite the calls for action on racism that have come from as high up as African ambassadors and President Vladimir Putin himself, little if anything has been done to address the issue.

Blemu, 44, spent 12 days in the hospital after the attack, has had one operation and will have to undergo another. Part of his intestine was removed due to bullet wounds and he now defecates through a tube.

Blemu, who has a Ph.D. in veterinary science, has lived permanently in Russia since 1994. He worked as an interpreter at a construction site near the Kursky Station for French construction firm Bouygues Batiment after failing to find a professional job in Moscow. Blemu said he put in 11 hours a day earning $3 an hour in order to feed his family -- sons Sasha, 14, and Zhenya, 15, daughter Mari-Madlen, 2, and his wife Yelena Linkevich, 35, who does not work because she is taking care of Mari-Madlen.

Blemu's colleague and fellow Guinean Alfa Diallo said that Blemu, whom he has known for 10 years, is a good-natured family man whom he had never known to harm anyone.

Blemu does not have a criminal record, local policeman Konstantin Sheremet said Aug. 1 in an interview with The Moscow Times.

According to Blemu, he became part of the anti-drug operation by chance: When returning from a neighbor's apartment on the eighth floor, he pressed the wrong button of the elevator and went to the first floor, where he was faced by a group of police who had just arrested an African suspected of drug dealing and were looking for his accomplices.

"I first thought it was something wrong with the buttons, when I realized I was going too far down," Blemu said. "Now I think I probably automatically hit the button of the first floor. You know, you have in mind only two buttons normally -- your own floor and the first floor."

He said that when the elevator doors opened, he saw four people talking to an African. Blemu said he did not know the man.

"I knew none of them. I waited a little to let them enter the elevator. But as none of them moved, I pressed the button and went up to the seventh floor," Blemu said.

The anti-drug squad turned down requests from The Moscow Times for its version of what took place next.

Sheremet said the squad decided Blemu was the man's accomplice because he was black and because he did not get out of the elevator.

Blemu said he was frightened to death when, having unlocked one of the doors to his apartment, he heard someone shouting behind him, "Get out your pistol, shoot the Negro."

He said he tried too quickly get into his apartment, but a rubber rug got in the jamb. He said the men -- whose faces he did not see because he was behind the door -- did not identify themselves as police.

"If they had knocked at my door and said who they were, of course, I would have opened the door," said Blemu. "Why would I worry? All my documents are in order."

During the struggle at the door, Blemu, who was soon joined by his son, Sasha, suffered a deep cut on one arm and was shot in the chest. The family has not yet cleaned the blood-smeared door in case it is needed as evidence.

Neighbors confirmed that Blemu was shouting for help.

"He shouted, 'Bandits are attacking me. Help, call the police,'" said one neighbor, who did not want to be identified. The same neighbor said that the police had first shouted, "We are the police, open the door or we will shoot."

"I can't quite understand what was going on there -- why some people shouted that they were the police and others shouted for help from bandits and asked to call the police," the neighbor said.

Linkevich, who had been at the neighbor's apartment on the eighth floor, said she heard the shouts and hurried to her husband's aid. She said she tried to pull the attackers away from the door, but they yelled insults at her and struck her on the head with the butt of a pistol. She ran back up to the neighbor and telephoned the police.

"At no point did we understand that they were the police," Linkevich said.

Losing blood and strength, Blemu said he fled for his life by climbing down balconies and managed to make it to the fourth floor, where he asked for help and to call the police.

A reporter saw these balconies. There are no railings that would allow a safe descent from floor to floor and there is almost nothing to hold onto on the outside of the balconies.

"I don't know how I did it. I was semi-conscious. Perhaps God helped me," said Blemu.

Instead of helping him, two men pushed him off the fourth-floor balcony, he said. The occupants of this apartment were not available for comment. Local policeman Sheremet said a couple and their baby live in this apartment. The family told Sheremet that when they saw the bleeding black man shouting something, the woman became very frightened and started to shout loudly.

"They told me the Negro fell off by himself," Sheremet said.

Meanwhile, Linkevich ran down to a policeman living on the fourth floor and asked him for help.

"He told me the attackers were police officers 'doing their job,'" she said.

When she returned to the apartment, the local police were already there checking the documents of the attackers, Linkevich said.

Blemu's apartment is shabby and needs repairs. Old wallpaper, worn-out parquet and cheap furniture do not create the impression that the people living there are well-off.

"I sit and think, what are we going to do now that we have lost our bread-winner?" Linkevich said.

The family has received no apology from the police. Sheremet only confirmed that he told the family that the use of a knife was illegal.

"Use of a knife by the police is savagery, it is something that I have never heard of -- it is not an authorized weapon," Sheremet said. "They [the police officers] only had the right to use a pistol if they had been attacked.

"But to understand what has really happened there, a proper investigation must be conducted with a reenactment of the crime."

However, Linkevich said the family had never been summoned for questioning, no police lineup had been organized, and there had been no re-enactment.

One of the justifications of the anti-drug officers' actions could be Prosecutor General's Office decree No. 5 issued this year, which says that if a person could hide evidence and a search could not be delayed, then searches can be conducted without a warrant from a prosecutor, Sheremet said.

According to the Constitution, no one is allowed to enter anyone's apartment without permission of the tenants. A prosecutor's warrant is required to conduct a search.

The Blemu family said their apartment has never been searched for drugs. Regardless of the grounds for searches, even under decree No. 5 an independent observer must be present -- a neighbor, for example.

"If they think we are drug dealers, why didn't they do the search?" Linkevich said. "They were in the apartment, but all they wanted was to kill my black husband -- they were shouting 'kill the Negro' all the time."

Alexei Kolyada, investigator at the Lyublino district prosecutor's office in charge of a case that has been opened against the family's "resistance to authorities," said in a telephone interview that Blemu's lawyer has asked the office to check the legality of and the grounds for the officers' actions.

"The Lyublino prosecutor assessed their actions as absolutely lawful," Kolyada said. "Now the case is at the stage of checking. What the investigation will show could be quite different."

He said he was too busy to deal with Blemu's case now.

Kolyada said he believes Blemu would not have resisted the officers if he was innocent. He said he could not believe the police failed to identify themselves because "every half a year they pass special tests on the legal basis of their actions and they know how to behave in certain situations."

Blemu's poor health did not stop him going to a reception at the Guinean Embassy on July 27, where he hoped to tell Guinean President Lansana Conte what had happened to him. Blemu still holds Guinean citizenship.

The meeting did not take place, but embassy staff told him Conte knew about his case.

Ambassador Amara Bangura said at the reception that African embassies should cooperate to defend Africans living in Russia and criticized inaction on racism from the Russian government.

Putin ordered the police to crack down on racially motivated attacks in April after a spate of incidents involving skinheads left one person dead and 10 injured. "For Russia, a multi-ethnic country, this is absolutely unacceptable," he was quoted as saying.