08.17.12

Chess Champ Garry Kasparov: ‘They Were Trying to Break My Leg’

The chess champion and Russian opposition leader was beaten and arrested Friday after showing up at the sentencing of anti-Putin punk band Pussy Riot. He tells Eli Lake about the horrific ordeal.

When chess grand champion and Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov showed up Friday at the sentencing of Russian punk band Pussy Riot, he didn’t expect to spend the next five hours in the custody of the Moscow police, recovering from a severe beating.

Now, he says, after being punched in the genitals, thrown in a van and beaten by several police, Kasparov says the police have accused him of biting one of them—an allegation he denies. “They act like animals and they accuse me of biting them,” Kasparov told the Daily Beast in his first interview since being arrested. “Can you imagine what it means to bite someone when you are being beaten? There should be blood on my face. It is beyond any common sense.”

Kasparov was one of several Russian opposition leaders to rally in support of the female punk band known as Pussy Riot. The three members of the band were sentenced to two years in prison for “hooliganism” after performing a song at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in which they asked the Virgin Mary to expel President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. Their trial has attracted worldwide attention, with stars like Paul McCartney and Madonna appealing to the Kremlin to drop the charges.

Kasparov said he went to the trial to show his support for Pussy Riot. While he was waiting for the trial to start, he said, he was giving interviews in the area outside the court cordoned off for reporters and activists. At one point, he said, one of the reporters motioned him to come with him into the courtroom. He said as soon as he walked outside the cordoned-off area, he was rushed by seven or eight police officers.

“At first I asked, ‘Why are you doing this?’” Kasparov said. “Then I became annoyed. I said I want to get out of here.” He said that’s when the police started beating him. “I remember one strong hit between the legs, then they tried to bring me in the bus, and they started carrying me and beating me. When that happens, you resist,” Kasparov said. “They were trying to break my leg.”

The police officers, Kasparov said, began to carry his limp body into a van with others whom they had arrested. The former chess champion said he remembered screaming in agony. “I remember inside the van they threw me to the floor,” he said. “Then they took my right leg, they push the leg to the ceiling. I now have problems with the right side of the back.” Kasparov said when he was in the van, the police officers continued to beat him. He says the only witnesses were other people the police had arrested.

“We’ve been saying Putin is a dictator for years who doesn’t care about the law. Today, he proved it.”

At the station, Kasparov said, he was confronted by officers who told him he wouldn’t be charged. But he said he later saw a police report accusing him of instigating the violence and organizing a riot outside the courtroom. “Why the hell did you say I was shouting or trying to organize this, you saw what happened?” he said he asked the police officers. “They wouldn’t look in my eyes.”

After nearly five hours in the police station, Kasparov was taken to a nearby hospital, where staff said the x-ray machine was broken. Speaking late Friday from his home in Moscow, Kasparov said he intended to press charges against the police and was collecting video of how he was beaten before being dragged into the police van.

Since news of his arrest, Kasparov said he had received warm messages of solidarity from his friends and supporters. He also said he received word from U.S. ambassador Michael McFaul who told him the U.S. embassy in Moscow was monitoring his case and the incident. McFaul couldn’t be reached late Friday for comment, and a spokeswoman for the State Department declined to comment on the incident.

For Kasparov, his arrest and the trial of Pussy Riot “just shows that Russia has nothing to do with the rule of law.” He added, “We’ve been saying Putin is a dictator for years who doesn’t care about the law. Today, he proved it.”