Sochi Torture Poster

Russian cops sodomize Olympic construction worker in dispute over $600 in back pay

Martiros Demerchyan thought his troubles were behind him. The construction worker had spent seven weeks building housing in Sochi for next year’s Winter Olympics, only to end up in a pay dispute with his employer, the Okhotskaya Building Company. When Demerchyan complained, his supervisor accused him of stealing electrical wire from a work site. Eventually, Demerchyan offered to allow a search of his home, and his supervisor relented. “He said, ‘Come by and pick up your pay,” Demerchyan recalls.

But when Demerchyan, a 38-year-old Russian national, arrived the next day expecting to receive the 20,000 rubles ($600) he says he is owed, he was greeted by several burly policemen. He was cuffed and taken to the police station, where they urged him to sign a document admitting to the theft of the wire. When he refused, he claims, the officers put on boxing gloves and pummeled him, cracking two of his teeth. ”I lost consciousness,” he tells Vocativ.

How We Know

While monitoring events in Sochi via social media local news outlets, we learned of Demerchyan's accusations. Through his lawyer, we arranged several interviews with him and his wife over the course of a month.  In addition, open-source research turned up the medical records from his post-incident examination, which confirmed his harrowing account.

“I screamed,” Demerchyan says. “I said, ‘I’ll sign whatever you want, just please don’t torture me anymore. I can’t bear any more of this.’” Demerchyan’s relative and co-worker, Sergei Krbashyan, accompanied him to the station, and was beaten as well, though less severely. Reportedly, Krbashyan said that he’d rather be shot than have the crowbar used on him.

According to medical reports obtained from a private medical center in Sochi, Demarchyan received as a result of the beating a concussion, damage to two teeth, and “intestinal injuries obtained from penetration by a foreign object.”

A representative for the Okhotskaya Building Company denied ever hearing of Demerchyan’s case and declined to comment on the treatment of workers. Demerchyan’s lawyer, Alexander Boychenko, initially complained that the police were ignoring their duties, not questioning witnesses or taking statements. An investigating officer is by law granted three days to decide whether or not to proceed with a criminal case. In this instance, the investigator, Artyom Semenets, took one month before deciding that the case was not worth pursuing.

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Demerchyan's family
(Demerchyan family)

Demerchyan’s beating may be an isolated incident. But the alleged motivation behind it—the abuse and underpayment of employees, as well as the possible collusion between construction companies and local authorities—has been a frequent complaint in Sochi, a once sleepy resort town on Russia’s Black Sea coastline, where snow-capped mountains overlook the beach. Now the city is a hub of new construction, from lavish hotels to state-of-the-art stadiums. And with the Winter Olympics set to kick off in February, analysts say that corruption and abuse are common at Olympics-related construction projects.

In a recent report, Human Rights Watch said it found a bevy of labor abuses, and Russian opposition leaders such as Boris Nemtsov, a vocal critic of President Vladimir Putin, have accused the government of widespread embezzlement of Olympic funds. “These allegations,” said Jane Buchanan, a Human Rights Watch analyst for Europe and Central Asia, “are very troubling.”

Additional Note

While Nemtsov is indeed a politician, and one who has every motivation to make Putin look bad, his accusations also came with a call for an independent investigation.  That's a request the Russian government simply won't comply with.

The cost of the games, once estimated at $12 billion, about the same as the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, is now expected to be roughly four times that amount. If true, this would make Sochi—the only Winter Olympics to be held in a city with a subtropical climate—the most expensive games in history.

The State Corporation Olympstroy, the government-run company in charge of overseeing all Olympic contracts, says they require all subcontractors to provide safe conditions to their workers and can carry out snap inspections at any time. There is little indication that these happen often. Subcontractors contacted by Human Rights Watch also claimed to follow all of Olympstroy’s standards without fail.

Accusations of corruption and abuse are nothing new for authoritarian states hoping to use the Olympics to make a splash on the world stage. In the lead up to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, for instance, human rights groups found evidence of similar malfeasance in China, where the government stood accused of carrying out unfair evictions and crackdowns on “undesirables.” But corruption is seen as more endemic in Russia, where some say the police and the criminal underworld are often in cahoots. And for the estimated 70,000 workers building some 400 venues for the games, venality and abuse is more than a mere statistic.

Many of these workers are foreign-born, often traveling to Sochi from countries such as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine, and thus more susceptible to mistreatment. Some have reported being denied wages, while others claim their bosses stole documents verifying their identities, housed them in overcrowded facilities and fed them inadequately, according to Human Rights Watch. “The Russian government has obligations under national and international law to protect workers, including migrant workers,” the human rights group wrote in its report.

Russia has gone to great lengths to promote the 2014 Winter Olympics
(Airbus)

For Putin, a leader who has cultivated the image of a tough, no-nonsense populist, the Olympics will be a major test of whether he can continue to maintain the order he has brought Russia in the past decade. Already, it’s clear that Sochi faces a considerable security dilemma and the prospect of terror attacks by the Caucasus Emirate, the most fearsome insurgent group in the region. Yet corruption could prove to be equally embarrassing for the Russian president, as well as for the International Olympic Committee.

“The IOC hasn’t taken swift or sweeping action [against corruption],” says Jules Boykoff, a professor of politics and government at Pacific University in Oregon and a former Olympic soccer player. “There’s a lot of money and prestige on the line. Avoiding controversy is the way the IOC works.”

Buchanan, the Human Rights Watch analyst, agreed. “We’ve gone to [the IOC] several times with allegations of a pattern of abuse across Olympic sites,” she said. “They were interested in seeing individual cases brought to them, but refused to examine them as a pattern.”

Vocativ was unable to receive comment from the IOC on either the Human Rights Watch report or the Demerchyan case.

For now, despite the allegations, the celebratory spirit of the Games continues. Putin himself has eagerly taken part in a public relation campaign promoting Sochi, and several metropolises in Russia installed large Olympic countdown clocks a year away from the event. But that does little for Demerchyan, who says he still suffers from reduced vision and pain in his lower back and kidneys. Unable to work and support his wife and four kids, he finds himself on the losing side of the Russian justice system.

“I have already borrowed all the money that I could from relatives,” Demerchyan says. “I don’t know what we will do.”

Demerchyan in his hospital bed with his son
(Demerchyan family)

 

Respond Now
  • Straight men don’t sodomize other men. What those russian cops proved is that they’re gay whores taking bribes from some kleptocrat.

  • “Yet corruption could prove to be equally embarrassing for the Russian president, as well as for the International Olympic Committee.”

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

    As if any member of the Russian kleptocracy was capable of feeling embarrassment or shame.

  • The IOC is not going to do anything to stop the crooks. Who do you think the biggest criminals are that are involved with the Olympics? The IOC itself, with all the kickbacks, gifts, expense accounts, perks, everything that they get. Its one giant scam, if everyone knew just how big of a scam it is no one would attend or touch an Olympic event ever. They have there own pockets running over first, what’s a little crime, a little extortion, beatings, even murder to keep the games going. Keep the cash flowing, keep everyone looking the other way. As long as the money keeps flowing in like water can be diverted into the top fews pockets why even consider stopping any of it. The rules clearly state they want no protests, no interference. They don’t care how its done as long as they look good. No one knows what’s going on. Everyone expects the IOC boards to be shocked, to so something about what is going on. why would one group of criminals care what another is doing in some small town in nowhere Russia. They are still playing in Switzerland with Nazi gold, where do you think the gold for the medals came from? Back when it was gold, every country should just walk away from the IOC Olympics hold there own games in a different country where when how they want. Screw Russia, screw the Swiss Crooks, show them who has the real power, launch an International investigation into what they are doing, why they are not taking action. Where the money they get is coming from going to. Its time someone tosses a wrench in there finely tuned plans. Russia should be disqualified alone bases on Human Rights abuse for the way they are treating their Gay members of society. Torturing, killing, with Putin the Punks blessing he is the worst thing to happen to Russia in a long time. If they want to live in the cold war past let them try it. The rest of the world is moving forward, can still blow them off the face of the planet’s 1000 times over again if need be. Not that I ever want it to come to that, but we still have the weapons to do it with, Putin’s own people should just rise up remove him from life once for all. Get rid of all the old time party members, that way of life will never come back. They are like the GOP TP Party in America dinosaurs the walking dead.

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