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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Railway Police Want to Jail Vagrants

ReutersA railway police spokeswoman said "normal people" should be protected from having to contemplate the indigent.
Police said Thursday that they wanted to revive a Soviet-era law to jail vagrants and beggars, a move critics condemned as a return to the totalitarian past.

"In the past, such people could be jailed for up to a year or be ordered to do forced labor," a railway police spokeswoman said. "Now we have no such system, we have no place for isolating these tramps."

The proposal to reinstate Soviet-era punishments originates with city railway police chief Andrei Alexeyev.

The spokeswoman said Alexeyev's initiative was aimed at "protecting normal people from having to contemplate these human beings, if you can so call them."

"You must agree: If you travel by metro, by bus or on a commuter train, you would never want to take a seat previously occupied by a vagrant, especially because many of them swarm with lice, right? But we still have our hands tied."

Police officials told newspapers this week that many homeless would benefit by being kept in custody through the bitter cold winter.

But human rights campaigners say the proposed amendments to the criminal code are "another blow to constitutional rights."

"This is just a new tool to strengthen police control over society," said Yevgeny Ikhlov, a spokesman for the group For Human Rights. "This is another example of a return to totalitarian laws."

A tougher law could only widen police corruption, said Maxim Yegorov, head of the charity Shelter, which helps homeless people in St. Petersburg.

Authorities are trying "to put an end to a problem they cannot resolve in a humane way," Yegorov said.

"How can you possibly blame a person for living in the street if he has no chance to stay anywhere else?" he said.

Yegorov, whose charity receives aid from the European Union and charitable groups in Europe, said the situation outside Moscow and St. Petersburg "defies description."

"A total of 4.5 million homeless roam in Russia," Yegorov said. "Outside Moscow and St. Petersburg, there are no homeless shelters, no free baths, literally nothing."