Almost a year has passed since a former Novorossiysk police officer, Alexey Dymovskiy, shot a famous video about corruption in the Russian police that has been viewed almost a million times. Since then, several police officers have followed in his footsteps, uploading YouTube testimonies of wrongdoings within the police force. Unfortunately, nearly all have suffered arrests, beatings, firings or criminal prosecution, and justice has never been done.
It's not that corruption in the Russian police was unknown before Dymovskiy's video. It was the medium he chose for telling this open secret that attracted so much attention. The full disclosure of the identity of the messenger was an essential part of the message, and it introduced a new form of citizen-to-government public communication: an online video address to the president or prime minister.
This form of public communication quickly caught on. At least seven former and present law enforcers copied the technique and presented their addresses on YouTube. Many others have followed. A search on YouTube currently reveals more than 1700 videos [RUS] entitled “Address to the president” uploaded within the last year.
Sadly, the online activity of the ‘YouTube cops’ has not yet changed things for the better. Quite to the contrary: many of the most notorious of these newborn “video-bloggers” have been prosecuted.
Serious personal consequences
Alexey Dymovskiy became the first victim of his own initiative. On December 29, 2009 a criminal case against him was initiated. He was accused of fraud and misuse of authority. At the same time, the police investigation unit didn't find any evidence of the crimes he spoke about in his video address. On January 22, 2010 Dymovskiy was arrested and spent almost 1,5 months in jail until he was released on March 7. On March 23, 2010 Krasnodar city court ruled that Dymovskiy was guilty of libel against his former bosses and obliged him to pay an overall compensation fee of $3000.
On February 21, 2010, Vadim Karastelyov, a non-governmental activist and supporter of Dymovskiy, was detained [RUS] for seven days for organizing a support rally for Dymovskiy that was not endorsed by the local authorities. Immediately after his release Karastelyov was assaulted at the door of his home and beaten.
Mikhail Yevseev, a former investigative crime officer, delivered his YouTube video address [RUS] on November 11, 2009. Yevseev spoke of corruption and about two people who were sentenced for life for setting fire to a trade center. Yevseev claimed the two were innocent and that he was forced to testify against them. In August 2010, two criminal cases were brought against him [RUS] (both by former police colleagues of Yevseev). On November 17, 2010, one year after the release of the video, Yevseev was sentenced to one year in a penal colony [RUS] “for releasing government secrets.”
Grigoriy Chekalin, the deputy prosecutor of the Ukhta city released his video address [RUS] on November 12, 2009. He spoke about the same arson case as Yevseev. On December 3, 2010 Chekalin was sentenced to 1,5 years in a penal colony [RUS] for presenting false evidence.
Vadim Smirnov, another retired ‘YouTube cop’ from Moscow wasn't prosecuted following his video-address. Soon after the video was uploaded he vanished from the blogosphere. Since then, there has been no news reported about him – probably, he was overwhelmed by the media effect he created.
Tatyana Domracheva, a police officer from Yekaterinburg, released her video address on June 26, 2010 [RUS]. She accused her colleagues and superiors of numerous unlawful actions. Only 1,5 months after her YouTube video she was fired due to formalities [RUS]. Her (former) boss threatened to start a criminal case against her, Kasparov.ru reported [RUS].
Three other Dymovskiy's followers (click on their names to watch the video-addresses), Igor Konygin [RUS], Alexey Mumolin [RUS], and Alexander Popkov [RUS] have so far not faced legal charges. Popkov, however, was implicated in an internal investigation, and a professional background check was begun on Mumolin, Vremya.ru reported.
More still adding their voices
Public opinion on the ‘YouTube cops’ is divided. After the initial chaotic support for their cause, some liberal journalists claimed [RUS] that Dymovskiy was involved in a number crimes himself, and that he had no right to accuse the police of corruption. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that mostly every YouTube cop has been involved in some kind of suspicious activity in the course of their career.
Although accusations against Dymovskiy and others still stand, the furious reaction of the police chiefs, and the considerable risks taken by the video makers, is one kind of evidence that what they say is true. In all cases, the police commanders have focused on eliminating the sources of the ‘public leakage’ rather than attempting to make changes (the police reform introduced at the end of 2009 can hardly be considered an actual change).
The story of ‘YouTube cops’ vividly shows how Russian law enforcement structures react to the attempts of online whistle-blowers. Dymovskiy and his followers have not experienced the same glorious fate of Frank Serpico, a New York policeman who testified against city corruption. Unlike Serpiko, Dymovskiy has not received any awards, and his story has not been turned into a Hollywood movie (other than the movie he made himself, of course). So far, he and his supporters have been persecuted, marginalized, and their claims were ignored.
Still, there are those who continue to speak up about corruption. On December 6, 2010 Yekaterina Rogoza, a police officer from Kushchevskaya village (a place where a local gang set fire to a family of 12), recorded an online video address [RUS] claiming she was forced by the local prosecutor to protect the gang and turn down any criminal cases against them. On the day after her YouTube upload, NTV national television broadcast an interview with her, offering hope that public pressure might force some kind of official action.
The fact that they use digital technology doesn't mean Dymovskiy or any of those who followed in his footsteps are saints, but it definitely brings forward a point of view that otherwise would be silenced. Maybe this one time, an online testimony can change something for the better?