(Reuters) – Albert Zagitov had barely set up his new fruit and vegetable stall at the bustling Volga market in the Russian city of Kazan when he was told by a stranger to pack up and go.
After he refused, he was taken to a police car and driven to a police station where he says four officers took turns to hit him in the head and chest and threatened to rape him.
“As soon as we sat in the car, they started behaving very cruelly, swearing at me and calling me names,” said Zagitov, a Russian born in the Tatarstan region of which Kazan is the capital.
“The threats were real. I was full of fear and in shock that this was happening,” he told Reuters, his words pouring out quickly as he recalled the events of last July.
He was freed six hours later with an aching head, battered ribs and a charge of petty hooliganism.
But looking back at the encounter, Zagitov, a 33-year-old father of one, can count himself lucky to have survived.
Last month Sergei Nazarov, an unemployed man of 52, was detained at the same police station on the same charge. The day after his arrest on March 9, Nazarov was taken to hospital with abdominal pains. He died less than 24 hours later.
Before slipping into a coma, he told relatives he had been beaten by four police officers and sodomized with a champagne bottle.
His death has caused outrage across Russia and sparked protests in Kazan, a more than 1,000-year-old city on the Volga River 750 km (470 miles) east of Moscow which prides itself on tolerance of its diverse ethnic population and many religions.
Police have charged five officers over the case, and investigators are re-opening previously “closed” cases where complaints were made, including Zagitov’s.