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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lawless Enforcement Is Still Rude Awakening

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It is an open secret that during each conscription drive our country's law enforcement agencies rarely pay too much attention to the law. In spite of this, I decided nonetheless not to go into hiding in order to avoid conscription.

I had hoped that I would be able to assert my constitutional right to choose alternative non-military service, or at least that my case would reach a court hearing. How terribly naive I was!

As soon as you cross the threshold of the voyenkomat, or military registration and enlistment office, you lose all your rights. Furthermore, should you be so bold as to protest, you are likely to end up being gagged and handcuffed.

I, however, found myself handcuffed even before my date with the voyenkomat. Early in the morning of Dec. 25, I was awakened by heavy banging on the door of my flat. It turned out to be a policeman eager to remind me of my duty and obligation to serve in the army.

I said straightaway that I did not intend to hide and opened the door. I asked him politely to wait a moment, but he in response seized me by the scruff of the neck and dragged me out onto the street. I was barefoot, dressed in a t-shirt and not much else, but that did not seem to stop him. The presence of several witnesses didn't stop him either.

And when I screamed, he hit me in the face. He proceeded to drag me to his car where I was handcuffed and found myself on the receiving end of yet more punches.

"Get ready for Chechnya," he kept on saying as we made our way to the Kotelnikovsky police station in the Lyubertsy district to the southeast of Moscow.

When we arrived, I made the acquaintance of three more policemen. I was ordered to take off my pants because -- as they told me -- "all policemen here are homosexuals." They seemed to find it an absolutely hilarious joke.

Then I was thrown into a police cell, where I remained until representatives from the Lyubertsy voyenkomat arrived. Finally, I was allowed to put on the warm clothes that my grandmother had in the meantime brought for me.

A few minutes later I was already in the voyenkomat facing a medical commission. Another half an hour went by and I was pronounced to be fit for military service "with some restrictions" because of strong myopia.

"You'll be given glasses in the army," said the chief of the medical commission, one Mr. L. My own glasses, by the way, had mysteriously "disappeared" while I was being beaten up by the policeman.

However, at that precise moment I did not give a damn about my glasses.

I argued that I would not serve in the army because of my convictions.

"You don't have a choice," replied Colonel D. "There is an article in the Constitution about alternative, non-military service, but there is no law so this article is actually null and void."

I muttered something about the Constitution being the main law in our country. He argued back that there is some mysterious article in our Constitution that suspends the implementation of the article about alternative service.

After this brief discussion, I learned from Colonel D. that at 2 p.m. that afternoon I would be taken to the army unit in Zheleznodorozhny, some 30 kilometers from Lyubertsy.

I shouted that I would not obey, but my attempts at resistance were broken down when Colonel D. applied his hand and arm-twisting skills. Soon -- gagged and handcuffed once again -- I was in the car going to Zheleznodorozhny. When I arrived and was taken to another medical examination I started to feel very depressed.

What happened next I cannot explain. Maybe my persistent refusals to obey had some impact, maybe my sorry sight played a part, but the decision was made that I was not good enough to serve in the Russian army.

I was driven back to the Lubertsy voyenkomat where Colonel D. promised to release me from my military duty. All I had to do was return to the voyenkomat on Jan. 8 with certificates showing the results of several medical tests. (Later my visit to the voyenkomat was postponed until Jan. 30).

And, of course, I was told to hold my tongue. "Our district is very small so we'll always be able to find you," Mr. L. told me before I went home.

However, hundreds of young men are not so lucky during military draft. Detained by policemen in the metro, student hostels or simply on the streets, they are conveyed to voyenkomats and then to some military base to start their service. Many of them have legal deferments of military service, but this makes no difference.

You can be a student or have a very serious illness but if you can not prove this by way of a certificate at the moment when you are caught, you do not have much more than a hope in hell. Communication with the outside world from a voyenkomat is very problematic, to say the least.

Military draft atrocities are of course only one example of abuse of power by our law enforcement agencies. Abuse of power is a common element in such diverse cases as the conviction of Grigory Pasko and the humiliations meted out by Moscow policemen to people from the Caucasus or of Caucasian appearance.

My friend Samvel -- who is from one of the Transcaucasian republics -- while studying in Moscow had the pleasure of experiencing this several times. He was once detained by a policeman who demanded documents. Samvel showed his student card but this was deemed insufficient. The policeman wanted to see Samvel's passport. When he explained that his passport was back at his student hostel, he was ordered to get into the car.

There it transpired that the policeman was not interested in his documents but in a bribe. And when Samvel said that he had no money, the policeman drove the car to an isolated location and beat him. He hit him so hard that Samvel lost consciousness and had to spend several weeks in the hospital.

Despite the seriousness of his injuries, Samvel decided not to file an official complaint to the police about his treatment. He is not a coward at all, he was simply very pessimistic about the chances of the "men in uniform" being brought to justice.

"They can do whatever they like with total impunity," he pointed out. And that is really the root of the problem. Civilian control of the police and army in this country simply does not exist. President Vladimir Putin has promised to go over to a professional army in the near future, but something has to be done to stop this kind of banditry in the military draft right now.

Anton Knyazev is a freelance journalist living in Moscow. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.