Russia’s interior ministry has opened an investigation after a video went viral showing a riot police officer punching a woman in the stomach during a protest for free elections.
The video shows a young woman dragged by two masked policemen in riot gear, with one of them punching her in the stomach so he can reach down to pick up a baton. The images provoked outrage in the media and on social networks.
A decision to block opposition candidates from running for election to Moscow’s city parliament has prompted a wave of protests that are among the largest since Vladimir Putin returned to the Kremlin in 2012.
In an interview to the Mediazona website, the woman, 26-year-old Daria Sosnovskaya, said she was dragged away by police for protesting against the detention of a man with a disability.
“Police officers started running towards me,” she told the website. “It was extremely unpleasant. I immediately had cramps everywhere, I couldn’t breathe.”
She said she was then taken with other detainees to a police station, where she was held withough access to a lawyer for several hours before being released with a warning.
The interior ministry said on Monday it had opened an internal enquiry into the case, promising that “those who are guilty will have to face responsibility”.
The Kremlin on Tuesday defended the police response to the protests. “We believe the firm action of law enforcement to curb public unrest was absolutely justified,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, in the first Kremlin comment since the protests engulfed the capital.
“We do not agree with those who call what is happening a political crisis.”
Moscow has been rocked by rallies, some unsanctioned, for the past month, with the largest on Saturday drawing up to 60,000 people. Police detained 136 at a protest in Moscow on Saturday that was authorised by city hall, with most taken into custody after they headed towards the presidential administration offices.
A protest on 27 July resulted in nearly 1,400 arrests.