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Beer & Twitter Prove Toxic Mix for Russian Journalist

Trains are a cheap and reliable way to get around Russia, particularly compared to the country's famously poor roads. Russia is a big country and journeys between cities can take hours (or even days). Given these difficulties, it is not uncommon for some passengers to have a drink or two to pass the time. Sometimes people can overdo it. According to a Russian police statement [ru], this is exactly what happened on an overnight train from Saratov to Moscow on April 11, 2013, when law enforcement officers ejected and detained Svetlana Lokotkova, a journalist with the independent magazine The New Times, after reports that “a passenger in a state of alcohol intoxication was disturbing the general peace.”

Lokotkova, an election observer who had traveled to Saratov to testify at an enquiry into the disputed October 2012 election for the regional parliament, was quick to hit back, informing a correspondent [ru] from Ekho Moskvy that she had called the police herself, due to the unwanted attention of a male passenger, but that the police instead arrested her:

за руки-ноги схватили, в полицейский участок буквально бросили. Когда пыталась пройти, буквально прищемляли руку дверью, у меня все руки в синяках, обзывались, оскорбляли.

They grabbed me by the arms and legs and literally threw me into the police station. When I tried to go past, they literally pinched my arm with the door, my whole arm is in bruises. They called me names and insulted me.

Lakotkova later posted pictures on her Facebook [ru] and Twitter [ru] accounts, showing the injuries she claimed to have received at the hands of the police.

Some were quick to jump to her defense. Twitter user tsarfree wrote (employing a hashtag for Lokotkova's surname):

#Локоткова стала жертвой провокации. Она должна была свидетельствовать в суде по выборам в Саратовской обл.

#Lokotkova has become a victim of a political provocation. She was supposed to give evidence in a court on the elections in the Saratov Region.

Despite her claims, Lokotkova's credibility was somewhat diminished, when pro-Putin television station NTV aired “amateur footage” [ru] of Lokotkova in the police station.

In the film, Lokotkova appears unsteady on her feet, irritable, and slurs her words. In the report, NTV also reproduced two tweets [ru] from Lokotkova's account dated just before the incident.

Саратовцы нравятся все больше и больше. Опять потрясяющее гостеприимство (предс ТИК Иноземцеву не считаем), опять в поезде угощают #саратов

I like Saratov's inhabitants more and more. Once again outstanding hospitality (apart from Electoral Commission head Inozemtzev), once again being treated [by others] on the train. #saratov

лечусь от дичайшей простуды в поезде #саратов-мск, 2й вагон. народными методами. саратовцы супер))))

Recovering from the worst cold on the train #saratov-moscow, 2nd train car. Using traditional methods. Saratov people are great :)

The NTV announcer inflects his reading of Lokotkova's tweets with an ironic pronunciation of “outstanding hospitality,” “being treated,” and “traditional methods,” implying (rather plausibly) that Lokotkova did not, as she maintains, abstain from liquor while on the train. This was an opinion that LiveJournal user Fish12a seemed to share:

Хорошо, что наша полиция научилась снимать своих клиентов на видео.
Дабы вранье неполживых журналистов было видно сразу же.
Уж лучше бы она молчала. Потому что видео появилось на тв в ответ на обвинения журналистки в “провокациях” и “зверстве полиции”.

It's good that our police have learnt to film their clients on video. That way the lies of disingenuous journalists are immediately apparent. She should have kept quiet, because the video was shown on TV in answer to the journalist's [own] accusations of “provocation” and “police brutality.”

Ironically, Lokotkova's attempts to paint herself as the victim of excessive police force and political provocation seem to have failed because the authorities utilized two of the opposition's most beloved tools: smartphone cameras and Twitter.

Lokotkova faces a 15-day administrative detention penalty for “minor hooliganism,” and it remains to be seen whether this will affect her planned return to Saratov, where she is scheduled to testify again in election fraud hearings today, April 16.

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