A Russian human rights attorney was found dead in her apartment last week under what some are calling “strange circumstances,” according to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, just one day after she had reportedly filmed authorities beating a detained suspect.
Galina Muzyka’s death in the Siberian city of Usolye-Sibirskoye followed a series of events that have left human rights advocates and one man’s family calling for a proper investigation into local authorities in Siberia.
The story begins with Mikhail Zagvozdin, who was driving on a local road with his 18-month-old son.
When he approached an intersection too quickly, Zagvozdin nearly rear-ended the car in front of him, according to his wife, Yulya Zagvozdina.
She said the other driver exited his vehicle and tried to hit her husband through the window, which Zagvozdin had opened to speak with the man.
Zagvozdin explained that he did not want to get out of the car with his young son inside, and the man then reached in the window and attempted to take his keys.
Zagvozdin began slowly driving away, with the other driver hanging on to his window. He ran alongside the car for several meters, according to Zagvozdina.
The couple believed that was the end of the incident, but the following morning, law enforcement officers turned up at their home threatening to break down the door.
"They said they were police, and seven men in plainclothes rushed in, as well as one investigator [from the local branch of the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor-General's Office]," Zagvozdina told RFE/RL. "They immediately went for my husband, pushed him up against the wall and demanded that he sign a paper authorizing them to conduct a search. My husband refused to sign anything without reading it, so they immediately began beating him.”
She said she pleaded with the officers to stop, noting that their 18-month-old and 4-year-old sons were bearing witness to the entire ordeal, but her pleas were ignored.
The officers left with Zagvozdin, not telling his wife where they were taking him, and also took “her telephone, her husband's telephone, and various other things after overturning furniture and generally ransacking the apartment.”
Though the police instructed her not to call anyone, Zagvozdina reached out to human rights groups for help locating a defense attorney using her neighbor’s phone.
She was put in touch with Galina Muzyka.
Muzyka went to the remand prison later that same day to find out what happened to Zagvozdin. There, she witnessed the man receiving another beating.
Local rights activist Pavel Glushchenko spoke with Zagvozdin and learned of the situation.
"They were beating Misha in a room at the Usolye Investigative Committee," Glushchenko told RFE/RL. "He was surrounded by nine men, including one investigator in uniform. At that moment, he heard Galina shouting through the open door: 'What are you doing?' He saw that she was filming it with her mobile phone. That was Friday, March 1."
The next day, Muzyka was found dead in her apartment after failing to show up for a briefing on the case.
Glushchenko said there was no evidence of the beating on her cell phone or other devices.
Police said “Muzyka was surrounded by open packets of medicine. Her phone had dialed the emergency number for an ambulance. The door was locked from the inside.”
It later came to light that the man involved in the traffic incident with Zagvozdin was an as-yet unnamed local police officer, who alleged that Zagvozdin “ran him down and drove for nearly a kilometer with him on the car's hood,” RFE/RL reported.
Law enforcement has denied that Zagvozdin was mistreated or abused and also insisted that Muzyka’s “cause of death was most likely not criminal.”
Zagvozdin filed a complaint with the Irkutsk Oblast human rights ombudsman, alleging that he was abused and tortured by the police.
The ombudsman has requested that “investigators order a medical examination of Zagvozdin and an autopsy of Muzyka by regional, rather than local, medical officials.”