Video footage of a Russian police officer punching a young woman in the stomach has stirred anger among many Russians who believe the authorities have used excessive force to disperse weeks of political demonstrations in Moscow.To Muscovites, it was as if Putin punched a woman protester.
While Russian police brutality rises against civilians, Putin, meanwhile, was taking a motorcycle joy ride in the Crimea.
The clip, filmed on Saturday and later circulated online by Russian celebrities with millions of followers, shows the moment two helmeted riot policemen drag the woman, Daria Sosnovskaya, to a waiting police bus.
Sosnovskaya, 26, is seen struggling to break free and trying to trip up one of the police officers who responds by punching her in the stomach. His action prompted one of the reporters filming the incident to sarcastically call the policeman “a hero”.
The statistician was one of over 200 people the police detained in central Moscow on Saturday for taking part in what authorities said was an illegal protest following a sanctioned demonstration to demand free elections in the city legislature.
Some 60,000 attended the protests, the White Counter monitoring group said. It was the biggest event of its kind in eight years. Increasingly, an emboldened anti-Kremlin opposition movement is challenging Putin’s tight grip on power.
Popular singer Egor Krid shared the clip of the arrest with his 10.7 million followers on Instagram; so did Sergey Lazarev, another well-known singer, with over 4 million followers. The clip garnered well over 3 million views as a result.
In an expletive-laden post Krid said he had filed a complaint with the police asking them to find and punish the police officer involved.
What kind of a scumbag do you need to be to hit a member of the fairer sex. I don’t care what she did. This kind of thing just shouldn’t happen.
Lazarev called the police officer’s behavior a “disgrace” and many Russians took to social media to condemn the incident using strong language.
Russian authorities have rejected accusations they have used excessive force to disperse such protests, which have now been going on for five weeks. The United States and the European Union have questioned their use of force.
Moscow’s police force declined to comment by phone. However, the Interfax news agency, in an appeasement gesture, said it had launched an internal investigation into the incident. Putin controls the largest media outlets in Russia.
RUSSIAN POLICE BRUTALITY
Sosnovskaya, who had earlier attended the sanctioned demonstration, said the police detained her after complaining about their arrest of a man suffering from some kind of a disability.
She has since filed a complaint against the police.
In a reflection of the anger the clip generated, Pavel Chikov, a human rights lawyer, had offered a reward of 100,000 rubles ($1,500) to anyone who could identify the police officer who was wearing a face mask and a helmet at the time.
One Russian online outlet later said it had identified him. It published his name and picture while declining to take Chikov’s money. Moscow police said the officer identified had not been involved in the incident.
Several Russians hurt by police at the protests are seeking redress through the courts.
Activists say they are planning to hold another protest on Aug. 17.
Reuters contributed to this article