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Mikhail Savva: Reflections on human rights from an FSB pre-trial detention centre

4 June 2013

Source: LiveJournalgazaryan_suren

Arrested on absurd charges, Professor Mikhail Savva has written two essays while held in custody in a pre-trial detention facility of the Krasnodar FSB. Below is the first of them:

Imitation of human rights: a perspective from prison

In several of my academic articles I have written about modern Russian political 'imitation' as being one of our main problems. It is well known that when something new is being introduced there are three possible strategies. The first is to take no notice, and to do nothing. The second is to work on introducing it in good faith. This means there is active and sincere work towards achieving a real result. The third strategy is imitation: those directly responsible are not working towards achieving a result, their task is to give the appearance of something in order to put a tick in the box. For more than two decades Russia has been trying to introduce the observance of human rights. This goal has still not been achieved. The reason is the purely imitational nature of these attempts. What is needed for successful imitation?

1) The willingness of officials and deputies at all levels of government to say one thing and do another

2) Government control of the major mass media, especially the TV channels

3) Exceptions to the rules set down in legislation (in those articles that concern protecting individuals from government repression)

4) The lack of effective oversight of government bodies one against another, and the weakness of public oversight of government. 

Unfortunately, our country has all four of these "success factors."

The clearest illustration of the first factor are the answers given by the Russian president to questions from German journalists on the repressive methods being used in the inspections of the NGOs in Russia. It was clearly stated that nobody was being jailed and just a few days later a demonstrative jailing took place.

The control of the press does not require much commenting on. The main television channels which broadcast to large audiences are tightly controlled. You get the impression that TV and the internet in Russia today are either from different historical periods or belong to different countries.

A crucial factor, of particular importance to those the government has decided to attack, are the numerous exceptions to the law. I will give just one example from the many available. The Criminal Procedure Code has established that people cannot be held in pre-trial custody for more than two months. That means that if the authorities suspect someone (only suspect, or have decided to intimidate and try to "break" psychologically) the person can only be thrown in jail for two months. It would seem this is a good rule. There is, however, a big BUT: if the investigators have not completed their investigation within this time, it can be extended. For crimes of medium severity for a further four months. So the possibility of extending periods of detention is turned into a general rule.

There is not even any need to explain why the investigators need more time, the judges usually extend the periods without any trouble. They after all have no experience of what life is like in a pre-trial detention centre, even for a few days... Nor do the public prosecutors who are so keen to support these applications. The European Court of Human Rights demands that an application to extend pre-trial detention must be backed up by specific facts. But for the Russian system today this is clearly not needed. All it needs are general formulations along the lines of "poses a risk of absconding." These are the words with which countless applications end and the men and women in robes always take them at face value. The problem is the lack of even minimal control over investigators and the courts in Russia. What is needed is either to close the loopholes in the legislation that are directed against people, or to establish effective control over their use. 

19 May 2013

Professor Mikhail Savva