'I Was Screaming': Disabled Russian Alleges Police Tortured Him To Confess To Burning Pro-War Banners

Dmitry Karimov says he was on his way to class on the morning of October 14 when he was jumped by five men and dragged him into an awaiting vehicle.

Karimov, a 22-year-old college student in the Siberian town of Krasnoobsk, had no idea his assailants were police officers.

"I tried to resist, shouting. Then they tased me. I was screaming, calling for help," Karimov, who is classified as hearing disabled and and speaks with an impediment, told RFE/RL's Siberia.Realities.

According to Karimov, police in Russia's Novosibirsk region over the next several hours threatened him and subjected him to physical torture in order to extract a confession from him.

The alleged crimes he confessed to -- and has since recanted -- involved two separate arson incidents in which public banners supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine were burned. If convicted, Karimov faces up to five years in prison.

"They put a bag over my head. They pressed me to the floor with their feet. One of these [policemen] said they would shoot me if I did not confess that I had burned a banner in support of the [invasion]. They said they would take me to the woods and shoot me there," Karimov said.

Karimov is one of hundreds of Russians known to have been charged in connection with anti-war protests since President Vladimir Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, triggering a war that rages on with no sign of an end more than eight months later.

But both Karimov and his lawyer insist he is innocent of the arson charges, and that he only confessed due to the physical and psychological torture that police subjected him to.

"In the criminal case materials, there is no substantial evidence of Karimov's involvement in the arson incidents, except for his confession," his attorney, Yury Golubitsky, told the Novosibirsk news portal NGS.ru.

Karimov's family obtained a diagnosis following his detention showing that he had bruises and abrasions on his arms and legs that appear to have resulted from blunt-force impact, as well as abrasions and burns on his shins, NGS.ru reported, citing the medical records.

'Intimidated Half To Death'

One of the incidents for which Karimov is charged involved the September 30 burning of a banner that adorned the House of Scientists in Krasnoobsk, a town of 23,000 on the southeastern outskirts of the regional capital, Novosibirsk. The building is about a 15-minute walk from Karimov's home.

Karimov also alleges that he was forced under the influence of torture to confess to the burning of another banner supporting Russia's war on Ukraine in August.

The regional branch of the Russian Interior Ministry in Novosibirsk declined to comment on the investigation of Karimov but confirmed that a criminal case had been opened against him.

The case materials included surveillance video showing a masked suspect wearing glasses similar to those that Karimov wears. But his lawyer, Golubitsky, said the physique of the individual shown in the footage was "completely different" from Karimov's, and that the coordination difficulties his client suffers would not allow him to move like the person shown in the surveillance video.

"We insist that Dmitry was not involved in arson and on the illegality of how his confession was obtained," Golubitsky told NGS.ru.

Karimov's mother, Yekaterina Mikhasenok, says she panicked when her son did not return home after lunch on the day he was detained and called the college he attends.

"It turned out that he wasn't even there that day. I panicked, called all my friends, then took my son's picture and ran to the police. They told me, 'We've got him,'" Mikhasenok said.

"It was only after he was released that I learned that [Dmitry] had been grabbed [near] our house in the morning, taken somewhere in the woods, tortured, and intimidated half to death," she said.

'I Said I Would Sign Anything'

According to Mikhasenok, her son's disability is linked to problems with his central nervous system that he has suffered since childhood.

Karimov says he was terrified when police took him to the woods and allegedly threatened to shoot him.

"They offered to relay my final words to my parents. It was so scary, at that point I decided that I would lie just to be released. And I said I would sign anything," Karimov said.

Since making his allegations of torture public last week, Karimov has since been ordered to undergo a mental-health examination that will require him to stay in a psychiatric clinic for several weeks, his lawyer Golubitsky was quoted by NGS.ru as saying on November 18.

The move came at the request of investigators, Golubitsky, who could not be immediately reached for comment, was quoted as saying.

"We consider this an unreasonable measure," NGS.ru quoted Golubitsky as saying. "Dmitry is only a suspect. His guilt has not been proved. We have indisputable evidence that he was not involved in the burning of the banners."