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Russian Journalist and Election Observer Speaks about Her Arrest

RuNet Echo This post is part of RuNet Echo, a Global Voices project to interpret the Russian language internet. All Posts · Learn more

On April 16, 2013, RuNet Echo published an article about Svetlana Lokotkova, a Russian journalist and election observer who was arrested and removed from an overnight train for alleged intoxication. Lokotkova was charged with “minor hooliganism” and faces 15 days in jail if convicted. Lokotkova denied the charges and used Twitter [ru] and Facebook [ru] to post pictures of injuries she claims to have received at the hands of the police. Her version of events was apparently contradicted when pro-Putin television station NTV aired “amateur footage” [ru] of her in police custody, where she appeared confused and unsteady on her feet. The NTV report also quoted extracts from her Twitter feed that seemed to suggest she had been indulging herself both before and after boarding the train (Lokotkova made references to Saratov's “outstanding hospitality” and recovering from a cold using “traditional methods” [or "folk remedies"]).

Svetlana Lokotkova, 6 April 2012, photo by Svetlana Lokotkova, used with permission.

Svetlana Lokotkova, 6 April 2012, photo by Svetlana Lokotkova, used with permission.

Lokotkova later contacted RuNet Echo, and agreed to outline what happened on the train and in the police station in her own words. She also spoke about social media as a tool for political activism.

First, Lokotkova contests the fact that she was intoxicated at the time of her arrest. In fact, she strenuously denies consuming any alcohol at all:

в поезде я пила только чай с медом и сок. в материалах дела, представленных полицейскими в суд, есть показания проводницы вагона, в котором я ехала. в своих письменных объяснениях полиции проводница поясняет, что я села в поезд трезвой, и что в поезде я не пила. кроме того, как я уже говорила, в последнее время я живу в таком бешеном ритме, который чисто физически не позволяет даже задуматься о выпивке.

on the train I drank only tea with honey and juice. in the case materials, which the police have submitted to the court, there are testimonials from from the conductor of the train-car. in her written account she explains that I was sober when I got on the train, and did not drink while on the train. besides, as I already said, recently I've been living at such a frantic pace, that I physically haven't even had the time to think about drinking.

Instead, she attributes her wooziness and apparent intoxication visible in the video to a combination of physical illness and emotional distress:

у меня была очень сильная простуда, кашель, с утра была температура 38,8. [...] сразу после того, как меня притащили в отделение полиции, с моей шеи сорвали сумочку со всеми документами и кошельком (впоследствии из него пропало около 10тыс. рублей), грубо сильно толкнули так, что я упала на пол и ударилась головой. впоследствии врачи у меня зафиксировали закрытую черепно-мозговую травму-сотрясение мозга. и кроме того, у меня сильно поднялось давление. уже на следующий день, когда все успокоилось, у меня было давление 160/130. так что в момент выложенного полицейскими видео давление было никак не меньше этих цифр. а по ощущениям – где-то 180/140: жутко кружилась голова, все плыло перед глазами.

I had a very bad cold and a cough, and since that morning my temperature was 38.8 degrees [101.8 F]. right after they dragged me to the police station, they ripped my purse from my neck, containing all my documents and wallet (from which about 10,000 rubles later disappeared), rudely pushed me so that I fell to the floor and hit my head. later, doctors determined that I received a closed head brain injury. in addition, my blood pressure rose a lot. the next day, when everything was calmer, my blood pressure was 160/130. so when the police were shooting the video my blood pressure could not have been any lower. but, actually, I felt like it was 180/140: my head was spinning, everything was blurry.

Lokotkova also argues that the tweets read on television, which NTV clearly implied were evidence of alcohol consumption (“folk remedy” being a common euphemism for liquor), were taken out of context. She says she was simply using actual folk remedies like honeyed tea to cure her cold, which she claims to use commonly:

поскольку лекарства вообще не люблю принимать, предпочитаю народные средства – травяные настои, мед, малина

since I do not like to take medicine, I prefer folk methods — herbal infusions, honey, raspberries

She elaborated:

под словами “опять угощают” я подразумевала домашние котлеты, которыми меня угостили соседи. в прошлый раз, когда я ехала из саратова, меня угостили домашними пирожками с капустой. [...] а под словами “лечусь народными средствами” – как уже выше пояснила – я подразумевала средства народной медицины для лечения простуды, главным из которых во все времена был и остается мед. медом меня угостили другие соседи.

by “getting entertained again” I meant the homemade cutlets that my neighbors [in the train car] treated me to. the last time I was coming from Saratov, I was treated to homemade cabbage pirozhki. [...] and by “recovering using folk remedies” – as I said earlier – I meant folk medicine for curing colds, the main [ingredient] of which has always been and always will be honey. I was treated to the honey by another neighbor.

Lokotkova also described what happened to her in the police station:

со мной обращались очень грубо, издевались морально и физически. били, толкали, пытались затащить в камеру [...], несколько раз прищемили дверью руки, ко мне не пускали врача, отобрали паспорт и телефон.

they treated me very roughly, abused me morally and physically. beat me, pushed me, tried to drag me into a cell [...], several times they squashed my hands in the door, didn't let me see a doctor, and took away my passport and telephone.

Finally, Lokotkova explained why it was that she refused to undergo a medical test for drunkenness. She cited the fact that she was charged with hooliganism (which does not require a blood alcohol test), not drinking in public (which does). She also says that the way she was offered the test was procedurally incorrect. Instead of officially recording the need for a test, and offering a choice of medical institutions:

меня обманом вывели из помещения полиции (сказали, что идем покупать билет на поезд до Москвы), уже на улице скрутили, силой затолкали в машину, отобрали телефон, привезли посреди ночи в какое-то здание без опознавательных знаков (во всяком случае, я не увидела никакой вывески, хотя просила мне ее показать), завели в кабинет, где была одна-единственная женщина, вручили ей направление на мое освидетельствование. а когда я сказала, что в таких условиях я проходить не буду, на оборотной стороне этого листочка написали, что я отказалась.

they tricked me into leaving the station (told me that we are going to buy a train ticket to Moscow), on they street they tied me up, pushed me into a car, took away my phone, drove me through the night to some unmarked building (at least I didn't see a sign, even though I asked to show me one), took me to an office where there was one single woman, gave her a referral for my examination. and when I said that I would not go through with it under these conditions, on the back of that sheet they wrote that I refused.

This moment was also recorded on the video published after the case gained notoriety. Interestingly, although the video is clearly being shot with a hand held camera, or perhaps a smartphone, Lokotkova believes that the footage came from some sort of security camera:

я не знаю, кто снимал. но насколько я поняла, в этом отделении полиции идет круглосуточная запись на видеокамеры, и именно запись с этих камер была использована.

I don't know who shot [the video]. as far as I understand, at that police station there is 24 hour video recording, and it was these cameras that were used.

Despite the fact that she thinks her tweets were misinterpreted, Lokotkova remains positive about the use of social media, and particularly impressed by the effectiveness of social networking for practical action.

абсолютно все без исключения мои друзья и даже почти совсем незнакомые люди в ФБ меня поддерживали, выражали сочувствие, предлагали помощь, координировали действия по моему вызволению из полиции. предложения о помощи поступают до сих пор – все в шоке от этой истории. в твиттере появилось несколько (3-4) бота-тролля с 20-ю подписчиками и с реальным заданием (в одном из твитов оно даже сохранилось) – как поливать меня грязью и выводить из себя идиотскими сообщениями. в ситуациях, подобных той, что произошла со мной, я считаю, что соцсети гораздо более эффективны, чем СМИ: люди координируются друг с другом, консультируют друг друга, находят телефоны полиции, прокуратуры, распределяют усилия – кто кому звонит, что предпринимает. так, например, в ФБ совсем недавно создана группа прямого действия, участники которой в частности помогали и моему вызволению.

absolutely without exception my friends and even people I didn't know have supported me on Facebook, expressed their sympathy, offered help, and coordinated actions to get me released. Offers of help are still coming in – everyone is shocked by the story. on Twitter, there are a few (three or four) troll-bots with 20 followers each and an actual assignment (which is still around in one of the tweets) to heap dirt on me and to harass me with idiotic messages. in situations like the one that happened to me, I think that social networks are a lot more effective than [traditional] mass media: people coordinate with each other, consult one another, find the phone numbers of the police, the prosecutor's office, and divide the labor - who calls whom, who does what. for example on Facebook this direct action group [ru] was recently created, members of which in particular helped get me released.

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