Russian Media

This section features occasional translations by Rights in Russia of materials published in the Russian-language media on human rights issues and featured here with due acknowledgement to the original sources.

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Zoya Svetova on the trial for "riot" of inmates at the Mozhaisk prison for minors [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 16 Apr 2018, 12:00 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 16 Apr 2018, 12:07 ]

24 March 2018 

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group’s human rights award, and former member of the Moscow Public Oversight Commission 

Extract from: Zoya Svetova: "Head of Mozhaisk prison colony: 'They bared their buttocks to clerics' ” 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Echo of Moscow



The trial in the case of the riot in a prison for minors continues in Moscow Region Court. Human rights activists are planning to take the case to the Supreme Court for clarification of the term “riot,” of which the defendants are accused.

Right now, prison staff are appearing as witnesses for the prosecution in court.

They are giving testimony against their recent charges. Eight 18-year-old boys are sitting in two glass “aquariums” and listening with bated breath to what the robust men in uniforms, on whose words their further fate depends, have to say about them. There is no doubt that they will be sent down for years. But now to prisons for adults.

The troika of judges is listening closely to the witnesses’ stories. The judge helps if a witness suddenly wanders away from the line the prosecution needs.

The questions of the prosecutor and defence lawyers circle around the main point: Why did those held at the Mozhaisk prison for minors, which was considered a model of its kind for many years and from which human rights activists had not received complaints, suddenly up and riot?

“The staff were put on alert on the command ‘uproar’”

The prison officers, the oversight inspector, deputy head, and head of the prison assure the court that they had relations of trust with the defendants. So what did the rioters want?

Oleg Merkuriev has worked as head of the Mozhaisk prison for minors since 2011. As some former defendants say, it was he who established a very strict, or “red” regime there and turned the prison into a “red goatshed” [referring to the red-armbanded “goats” who fill a trustee-like role in a reformatory].

“On 21 February 2016 I was in Moscow, and at about 19:40 a report came in from the DPNK (duty aide to the prison head—MBKh Media) saying that they had barricaded themselves in on the third floor of the unit and were burning furniture and demanding cigarettes and cellphones,” Merkuriev says. “I reported to Tikhomirov (head of the Moscow Region Federal Penitentiary Administration -- MBKh Media) and told them to put the staff on alert on the command ‘uproar,’ and summoned his deputy, who was in Moscow, to go to the prison and begin working with the defendants. Ninety minutes later, Tikhomirov arrived and himself began talking with the defendants. The light was turned off in all buildings on the prison territory. Where the defendants were, on the third floor, some had scarfs on their faces and shouts and laughter could be heard…I could recognize them by their voices and physical appearance.”

The prosecutor asks Merkuriev what demands the rioters made, what they wanted.

“They told us they were sick of marching in formation and sick of wearing institutional clothing, that they felt oppressed,” Merkuriev answers. “I say, ‘Cite instances.’ None of them cited any instances. They started latching onto the fact that convict Mamedov was beaten and pushed… They demanded cigarettes and cellphones.”

[…]

In general, can the events of 21 February 2016 in the Mozhaisk prison for minors be considered “riots”? According to Article 212 of the Russian Criminal Code, riots must involve violence, devastation, arson, destruction of property, and use of weapons, explosive devices, explosives, poison or other substances and objects that present a danger to the people around, as well as the offering of armed resistance to a representative of authority. We heard none of this in the statements of the witnesses for the prosecution in this trial. The only thing that can be said with confidence is that the incarcerated adolescents destroyed prison property. The damage they are charged with is valued at 320,000 roubles. But there was no resistance to prison personnel, no violence, and no armed resistance.

Appeal to the Supreme Court

Six months before the events at the Mozhaisk prison for minors, in August 2015, analogous events occurred in the Voronezh region, at the Bobrov prison for minors.

According to the charges, “on 19 August 2015, several prisoners in the Bobrov prison for minors expressed dissatisfaction with the terms of their living conditions and demanded permission to smoke. The prisoners agreed to start a riot and secured the support of other prisoners.”

As at the Mozhaisk prison, they barricaded themselves into the dormitory, smashed furniture, and set fires. They destroyed property worth more than 3 million roubles. This is many times more than what the inmates of the Mozhaisk prison are being charged with. In Bobrov, the investigation categorized the defendants’ actions under a different article — Article 167 of the Russian Criminal Code —“destruction of property.”

Eight defendants appeared before Bobrov district court as well. Some of them partially admitted their guilt; the others did not. The court sentenced them to various terms of punishment from six months to a year, taking into consideration the fact that the crime had been committed by them as minors – as was the case at the Mozhaisk prison.

The lawyers drew attention to the fact that in a paradoxical way, completely different legal practice is being created in two regions of the Russian Federation, when analogous conflicts between prisoners and staff are treated in one instance as “destruction of property” and in the other as “riots.” In this regard, it is essential that the Supreme Court finally provide a definition of "riots," "incitement to riot," and "participation in riots," since these terms have yet to be clarified in Russian legislation.

Human rights activists following the trial in the Moscow Region Court are planning to appeal to the Supreme Court, requesting that a special Plenum of the Court be convened on this issue.

At stake is the fate of minors who are threatened with long sentences. And no one is going to bear responsibility for the failed “rehabilitation” of those minors in the prison, which turned into a riot.

Translated by Marian Schwartz

Aleksei Babii on the foundation of Krasnoyarsk Memorial Society [Sibir.Realii]

posted 15 Apr 2018, 13:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 15 Apr 2018, 14:01 ]

19 March 2018


An extract from “Anyone can be jailed!”


Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Sibir. Realii


In March this year Krasnoyarsk Memorial turned 30. On 9th March 1988 Vladimir Birger, Irina Polushkina and Aleksei Babii (all three are mathematicians, programmers) approached Vladimir Sirotinin, a member of the Political Prisoners’ Aid Fund, and proposed creating an organisation that would be devoted to finding information about the fates of victims of political repression.

That was what they called the organisation: Fates of People. This happened almost a year before the International Memorial Society was officially founded (in January 1989). Soon after this the Krasnoyarsk organisation was renamed. By that time information about several thousand victims of repression had already been collected.

Over 30 years the people from Krasnoyarsk Memorial collected data from about 200,000 people who had suffered repression. According to the chair of Krasnoyarsk Memorial, Aleksei Babii, this is roughly a fifth of the work which must be done: in the years from 1920 - 1980 more than one million victims of repression passed through Krasnoyarsk region.

“Politics was never far”

Aleksei Andreyevich, how did this all start? How did the idea of creating such an organisation appear?

In fact it all started in November 1987 when the journalist Yury Shchekochikhin and human rights activists Lev Ponomarev and Yury Samodurov published an article in Literaturnaya gazeta in which they recalled that even Khrushchev had promised to establish a memorial to the victims of political repression, but it hadn’t been done. So they proposed collecting signatures for a petition, throughout the country, for the creation of such a memorial. As you know, it only appeared in autumn 2017. However, that very article became the catalyst for the work which Memorial has done since. It all began, for us as well, with that petition.

Volodya Birger brought us together – we met in a literature club called “Debut.” I was a regular member and Volodya turned up to collect signatures for the petition. It turned out that we were experts in the same field – computer programming – and we both knew Ira Polushkina (she had studied at the mathematics faculty two years below me). We started to work. We collected signatures. Volodya and I had access to a computer on which it was easier to print out the blank forms for the petition, than on the typewriter. My work at the time involved frequent business trips to Moscow, so I was able to hand over the signatures on the petition to Ponomarev.

But at some point it became clear that a memorial is one thing, but what was needed was to work to for people, to restore the rights of the innocent people who had suffered. Volodya Birger proposed creating just such an organisation. But he didn’t want to head it. In general, he was an introvert that he felt more at ease working with documents, or interviewing people – he left behind an enormous archive. I also dug my heels in: by that time I had already left all organisations a long time before, hadn’t joined any news ones, and had no intention of doing so – whether they were legal or prohibited. In short, we went to see Volodya Sirotinin and his wife, Svetlana Borisovna (now his widow), at their home and proposed that he should head up the new organisation. It was 9th March. And our organisation immediately began to work. [Read more in Russian]

Translated by Frances Robson

An interview with Anna Stavitskaya [lawyer-magazine.ru]

posted 14 Apr 2018, 13:52 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 14 Apr 2018, 14:06 ]


An extract from "A woman in the legal system is…a diamond"

- an interview by Marina Silvanova with lawyer and laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group prize Anna Stavitskaya in the rubric “Lady in law. Женщина в праве”

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: lawyer-magazine.ru]

Photo by Alisa Gokoeva



Anna Stavitskaya graduated from the Moscow State Legal Academy in 1996 and has been practising law since 1997. She is a partner of the Moscow law firm ‘Liptser, Stavitskaya and partners’. She completed a traineeship at the Danish Institute for Human Rights and works regularly with the International Protection Centre. She was also the 2011 laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group human rights prize for ‘the defence of human rights in court.’ She has been named one of the 100 most influential women in Russia by Ekho Moskvy, Ria Novosti and the paper Ogonek. She has represented scientists in espionage cases and specialises in jury trials, extradition trials and representation before the European Court of Human Rights.

What values were decisive in your choice of profession? Who or what influenced this decision?

I don’t even know how to answer this question because it is usually answered with something pretentious and with talk about destiny. Really I was 16-17 and I just thought that to be a lawyer would be a really interesting and exciting profession, similar in a way to acting, I thought that it would be really great to address a courtroom. And that lawyers are all so very beautiful and nice-smelling…

A very girlish choice influenced by beauty and romance.

Yes, acting and beauty, all very alluring. I didn’t understand the difficulty of this profession at all and didn’t imagine how insanely hard it would be or the kind of justice we have. That is, I thought that the work of a lawyer was very varied, that it required a lot of brainpower and at the same time that it was very beautiful. Serious, intelligent and above all very attractive people with a beautiful way of speaking and good-sounding voices. So the superficial image I had in my dreams was perhaps the defining factor.

And how did your parents feel about your decision? What did they do?

Well, how do parents usually look at the future profession of their child? If the child choses something which they don't consider serious then they think it’s not a proper choice, but law was a completely serious and legitimate choice of specialisation. I am from a very normal family: my father worked as a driver and my mother in the human resources department of a hospital. So they were happy with my choice. In fact my mum really helped me with labour law.

So, you pictured lawyers like actors but then you came to studying and you began to read about complicated and at times boring subjects. Were you not disappointed?

No, in general I didn’t think about that, I just studied. And then student life is very interesting in itself. Of course, some subjects seemed terribly boring to me but student life turned everything into an exciting adventure. Yes, even during my studies I still didn’t properly understand what advocacy was or how to be a lawyer. And I was strengthened in my desire to become one when I came to work in a court as a secretary. I had been told that to fall into the legal profession off the street is practically impossible, however intelligent and golden you are, because the legal profession is like a clan, a closed-community and full of nepotism. None of my relatives had any connections with lawyers so I got a job as a secretary of the court to see and get to know this ‘clan’.

Did you never wish to become a judge?

No, I never saw myself in the role of a judge. I didn’t have a romanticized image of myself as a competent judge, that I would judge criminals fairly. I always wanted to protect people. This noble profession combined, in my opinion, many attractive qualities. Firstly, being a trial lawyer is very interesting. Secondly, it is noble, and thirdly these people act in such a way that people just listen, open mouthed. They basically know everything. Then I realised that my favourite profession was above all intense, hard work which unfortunately, doesn’t always bring the desired results!

So, off I went to work in a court with the sole purpose of getting acquainted with these wonderful people, these trial lawyers, in the hope that they would later support me in my quest to become one of them. I must say that at that time, in the early 1990s, there was only one bar association in Moscow. Among its members were trial lawyers who even in cases where they weren’t getting paid would speak so well you would be spellbound. Sometimes I would stop writing the minutes of the trial because I was too busy listening to the lawyer and the judge would hiss at me: "Anya, write!".

I began working as a secretary in 1991, in Tagansky district court, which was very different from courts today. We had had some flashes of democracy in the early 1990s and the courts caught some of this wave. Moreover, the judge I was assigned to was young, and she got cases that were not very serious or difficult, for example, theft from a meat-packing plant or something similar. There wasn’t anything gruesome.

Nowadays it is often said that judges are merely secretaries of the court hearings who absorb what is happening in the courts and from the beginning learn that a defendant should not be seen as a person, that a trial lawyer is not worth listening to, and that on the contrary the prosecution should be trusted and a conviction is the only right verdict. That was not the case for us. This was, in part, due to the fact that in Olga Kozyreva we had a very intelligent chair of the court who had a good attitude towards trial lawyers and did not see them as opponents of justice. She treated both prosecutors and trial lawyers as professionals. By the way, Olga Kozyreva is now a fantastic trial lawyer. However, working as a court secretary, I understood things were different in other courts.

For example, I simply could not stand it when people just sat and waited for God knows how long in the corridors of the court. I would always explain the reason for a delay. If I knew that a court hearing was not going to take place, I would phone the trial lawyers and everyone taking part in the hearing and told them they need not come. The trial lawyers were often surprised by this but I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary in phoning and letting them know. I was later told that people did not do that. Even today there are times when you can spend a whole day at the courthouse and no-one will come out and tell you why the hearing has been delayed. This is complete disregard for people.

The school I went through in court later helped me because I came to understand what someone involved in court proceedings should do, how they should behave, how and when to say something, when to stand up. These details are quite important but they aren’t taught in universities! Students are taught to memorize laws. When I was a student a lot of what we had learned in the second year would have changed by the time we got to third year. As a matter of fact, lawyers aren’t trained very well in our country. An understanding of the law is not taught at all. There were of course certain teachers who loved their subject and made it interesting, but they were exception. In my view people do not need to learn to memorize laws that change, but they need to be taught to understand law, the general principles on which it is based, as well as more practical things, like mock trials. It doesn’t make any sense to learn laws in our system. I am very ashamed, but I must admit that I can’t keep up with the changes in the legislation. You’ve just finished one trial and you open the criminal-procedural code and your eyes nearly pop out seeing another senseless amendment.

You were admitted to the bar quite soon after graduation. How did you become a trial lawyer?

Straight after my final university exams I took exams for getting a pupillage. I took the exam, I did my pupillage, and then I became a trial lawyer. I don't have a very good memory for the dates of events in my life, yet I can remember when I became a trial lawyer very well.

When?

27 May 1997.

So was it one of the most important events in your life?

Yes, it was a major event for me. But even once I had officially become a trial lawyer, I still had very romantic ideas about the justice system. I thought that having graduated with a good degree and having worked in a court, I must have a good understanding of the law and how justice works. To put it bluntly, I thought that I'd go into a court and set things to rights. But I went into a court and realised that my attitude, an attitude based on the law, wasn't really shared by anyone else.

Did you think about giving up?

To be honest, virtually every day I consider giving it all up, because no one can have enough moral strength to engage in a profession that is a waste of time in our country. But, firstly, I don't know how to do anything else, and secondly, my attitude to life is: never give up. I chose my fate and I feel a vocation to be a trial lawyer, even though I fall into despair after each court case that doesn't work out the way I would have liked. Regardless of the fact that I am used to our situation, each unjust case still shocks me. But after every shock I pull myself together again somehow and carry on doing something.

How did human rights become the main focus of your legal practice?

I think that being a trial lawyer is all about human rights. I can't separate human rights from my profession as a trial lawyer – it's the same thing for me. What a trial lawyer does in court is defend human rights. Fate brought me together with the lawyer Karinna Moskalenko [a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group], who, as they say, “opened a window onto Europe,” since she was one of the first people in our country to start using international legal mechanisms to defend human rights. Even before the ratification of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, she was already involved with international protection legal mechanisms. Karinna picked out young lawyers who were interested in this topic and trained us up. It's fair to say that I go through life with her.

So in a sense, a trial lawyer is a human rights defender?

Human rights defenders usually dislike trial lawyers, and the lawyers usually dislike human rights defenders. Human rights defenders claim that because trial lawyers work for money, they don’t always have the interests of their clients in mind, as they ought. Trial lawyers believe that human rights defenders just make a noise and have only a vague understanding of law. But I don’t share these two points of view. I believe that a good lawyer is one who thinks about human rights. That’s why the relations between trial lawyers and human rights defenders have always seemed artificial and incorrect to me.

Of course, some of the claims from lawyers and human rights defenders do have a basis. It’s no secret that the bar is diverse, and there are many in the profession who, despite their professional status, don’t understand what it means to be a trial lawyer. Trial lawyers were the legal elite. But after the new law on trial lawyers was passed, and all kinds of people were able to enter the profession, the quality of the bar seriously declined. For example, one day someone is a prosecutor and the next day they're sitting in the chair of the defence lawyer – what does that say about the profession? One’s perception of the world surely doesn’t change that fast! Today you’re prosecuting, and tomorrow you’re defending with the same amount of passion? That’s just not possible!

Why? Surely there are professional lawyers on both sides? Do you think it’s a way of thinking?

Yes, it’s a way of thinking, a character trait, a certain world view – that’s one thing. And secondly, a defence lawyer is fighting all the time, particularly a lawyer in criminal cases, and has a much broader outlook than a prosecutor. Because whatever words a prosecutor uses, and often he says nothing at all, the judge will still do as he said. That’s why a prosecutor doesn’t need to move on, develop, read anything or improve his vocabulary. The state machine is behind a prosecutor. But a good trial lawyer needs to be able to write well, to express their thoughts well, to speak properly and to be able to react quickly. A trial lawyer is constantly poised and in suspense. And there’s only a client behind them.

At the time I started working as a court secretary, trial lawyers were, of course, the best legal professionals. And I didn’t even need to look at their documents to understand that a trial lawyer was from the city bar or, as they put it, “the equivalent”. The professional level was seriously different. Now, unfortunately, the profession is full of dubious people, and what is most sad is that all these lamentable lawyers have led to judges no longer respecting us either. Where trial lawyers used to be fearsome bulls, now there stands someone who can’t even string two words together, never mind launch a defence. That’s why I think we are largely to blame for the disrespectful attitude of judges towards lawyers. When I speak in district courts – this hasn’t been recently, but it sometimes happens – the judges look at me with such amazement, as if I’ve flown down from the moon, when I start speaking …

But do they act on what you say, or are they just surprised?

At first they’re surprised, then they may act on what I’ve said, alter their approach, but in the end we reach a compromise. I’ve been lucky with colleagues and lawyer friends. But those who, to put it mildly, don’t cope very well, I come across only on paper. When you open the case materials and the nominal lawyer John Smith has made such a mess that you have huge difficulties in rectifying the situation, it’s annoying and frustrating. And so criminal cases are complicated by the fact that you can do practically nothing with them, so you have to rake through what your incomprehensible comrade has done who acted on the basis of the investigator’s advice. All the friends and colleagues with whom I work and deal are real trial lawyers. Lawyers with a capital L.

Could you name some events in your life that played a defining role?

Meeting Karinna Moskalenko. I consider her my teacher and the person to whom I owe what I have become now. She helped me advance in this profession. And what I particularly like about Karinna Akopovna is that she always gives way to the young. At the same time, she didn’t spend a long time preparing us: she taught professional skills the same way you learn to swim – she threw us into serious cases where you have no choice but to succeed.

Can you tell us about a case that is meaningful to you personally?

There have been a lot of such cases in my practice, each one meaningful in its own way. One of the most complex, perhaps, was the case of Igor Sutyagin, who was accused of espionage. Sutyagin, a researcher working at the USA and Canada Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was arrested on charges of treason in spite of the fact that he had no official clearance to access classified materials. The case took a whole year in Kaluga Regional Court, but the charges were so vague and unproven that the judge was unable to convict, and sent the case back for further investigation. He obviously thought that the case would be closed at that point. But it was not only not closed, but in fact it was sent to Moscow, and we filed a petition for the case to be heard by a jury. We were convinced that the jury would vindicate Sutyagin, as the accusation was unproven. But he was unanimously found guilty, and the judge sentenced him to fifteen years in prison. Then we found out that someone who had served in the foreign intelligence service had been placed on the jury. For me, the guilty verdict was a huge blow. I had thought that even if you cannot achieve anything in ordinary courts, then a jury court would be a bastion of the adversarial trial system, where a person’s fate depends on your professional skills. But it turned out that even a jury trial can be reduced to a fiction and people can be brought in to serve as jurors with the aim of getting the verdict the prosecution needs. And all that with the consent of the court.

As a result, Sutyagin served eleven years in jail, and in 2010 he was exchanged for Anna Chapman. Now Igor lives and works in the UK. Igor Sutyagin is an incredibly intelligent man – I may never have met anyone more intelligent – and has a phenomenal memory. And of course, such a mind needs to be used for the benefit of science and the state, but he was always on the sidelines. Other people, pushier and more slippery, made themselves careers using his ideas and developments. And since he is someone with a sense of his own worth, this state of affairs stung his pride. In the UK he has made a complete turnaround and is now a researcher with a worldwide reputation.  […]

Do you stay in contact with clients after the end of the trial?

Yes, I’m friends with almost all of them. I’ve been very lucky in my professional life as a lawyer, as my clients are very interesting people. I could write a whole book about each one of them. They’re all interesting to talk to, and I’m very grateful to fate that in every case I work on, the person is a diamond. When we’re talking about clients, my friends say, ‘Hey, you get all the good ones’. It’s true! Every defendant I’ve represented has been a very unusual and interesting person. [...]

What professional achievements are you proud of? 

After the Garabaev case, I did a lot of extradition cases. In many of my cases in that area, the European Court of Human Rights took decisions that set precedents. For any lawyer that is not only a victory, but a source of pride.

In addition, when I started dealing with extradition cases it became clear that this area is very poorly dealt with in the legislation. For example, the terms of detention of persons subject to extradition were never formally extended, even though they remained in detention. People were put in jail and practically forgotten about. Nobody bothered with them and they could be detained for long periods of time without any court decision. Then I filed a legal challenge on the issue with the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, and although the Court did not declare the practice to be unconstitutional, it issued an elucidation after which the terms of detention of persons under consideration for extradition must be treated in the same way as the periods of detention of those people who are remanded in custody prior to trial. I’m also proud of the decisions on my cases at the European Court of Human Rights, which are quite numerous now, and of my track record of acquittals, which are a very rare thing in our courts, but I have achieved several. [...]

What would you be if you weren’t a trial lawyer?

The bar is really my vocation. But I sometimes think I’d have liked to be an art director or a music manager at a fashionable café. I’d invite musicians and organise concerts. And I like the idea of having my own café, too.

A woman in the legal system is…

A diamond. My experience shows that having a female lawyer at the trial is quite an advantage for a client. A woman lawyer always examines all the materials of the case very scrupulously, thoroughly verifies the client’s position, carefully selects the evidence and generally bubbles over with ideas. She does her job and doesn’t make a fuss about it. Or at least my female trial lawyer friends are like that. And the women I know – I mean good lawyers – have the determination of a bulldog. If she undertakes a case, she’ll bring it to a good conclusion. But that’s with regard to work: outwardly my colleagues are well-groomed and very intelligent beauties. 

Translated by Anna Bowles, Matthew Quigley, Nathalie Corbett, Suzanne Eade Roberts and Tatjana Duff

Vera Vasilieva on prosecutorial bias in the Russian judicial system: "A court cannot be just by halves" [Radio Svoboda]

posted 9 Apr 2018, 10:28 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 9 Apr 2018, 10:34 ]


18 March 2018


By Vera Vasileva, journalist 


Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda]



A great deal has already been said about the prosecutorial bias, the infringement of the principle of equal sides, in the Russian judicial system. Only once, in the more than ten years that I have written about the justice system as a journalist, have I been present when an acquittal was pronounced. We are not talking here only about those who, in the view of human rights activists, find themselves being prosecuted for political reasons, but also about ordinary people. For those unjustly convicted, a sentence equivalent to the time already spent in detention, or a suspended sentence, is a good result. It is extremely unusual for Russian judges (in less than one percent of cases) to acquit those charged, probably because that could be interpreted as meaning that the investigation had been poorly conducted.

It is frightening to realise just how far Russia lags behind those countries where the judicial system forms the basis of a heathy society, one in which a citizen can dispute the act or the lack of action of an official, and where this guarantees the observance of human rights and freedoms. In Russia the presumption of innocence does not, in fact, exist, and the justice system essentially is of a punitive nature. This is so widely accepted and customary that unjust verdicts of suspended sentences in fabricated cases surprise no one. More than that, if they do provoke a protest, it is feeble, and sometimes they are greeted with joy – not, of course, because of the verdict but because of not being sent to prison.

At the beginning of March, the civic activist Mark Galperin, under house arrest since the 27th June of last year and recognized as a political prisoner by Memorial Human Rights Centre, received a two-year suspended sentence on the basis of a quite dubious charge of making extremist public statements. All who sympathized with Galperin breathed a sigh of relief that he had not been sentenced to a term in prison.

Another example: at the end of January, Yury Dmitriev, head of the Karelian branch of the Memorial society, was released from the pre-trial detention centre in Petrozavodsk on condition of a travel ban. His supporters rejoiced because, after all, the unremitting efforts of the defence lawyer, human rights activists, public and political figures, and artists and scientists who had campaigned on his behalf had met with success. The fact that the case – although it had fallen apart under scrutiny – was still continuing, that a trial would take place, that the threat of punishment was still there, faded into the background.

At much the same time expertise requested by the police failed to support the conclusions of investigators in the case of the mathematician Dmitry Bogatov that the latter had made a number of illegal posts to social media from his IP-address. Having spent three and a half months on remand, then six and a half months under house arrest, he was also released upon condition of a travel ban. Undoubtedly, that’s a great victory. But it’s not a final victory because the case with its unsubstantiated charges has not yet been closed.

Many other examples of this kind could be cited, examples which show that we do not expect acquittals or just decisions from Russian judges (because we have lost faith in the possibility of defeating arbitrary actions), and, as a result, we are happy when there’s relatively little harm. The situation is clear to all those who are even slightly interested in the topic: such verdicts represent ‘acquittal’ in Russia today. Indeed, in so far as possible they can be said to leave everyone happy, or, as the saying goes, “the wolves are full and the sheep are unharmed.”

Obviously the fact that innocent people are eventually freed is a good thing. It’s just that we should not rejoice in such victories. The sighs of relief or even the applause that can be heard in the court rooms in cases such as these are a natural reaction by relatives, friends, and sympathizers when an innocent individual has fallen into such misfortune. However, the result of all this is the continuation of judicial malpractice. We no longer hope to change a system which works unremittingly, damaging the lives of more and more people, and we are pleased when we manage to pull at least a single victim out of its grasp.

At the end of last year at an evening in support of Yury Dmitriev at the Sakharov Centre, when he himself was still behind bars, his daughter, Ekaterina Klodt, referring to her father being in prison, said ‘It’s impossible to accept it. I can’t get used to it. For me, personally, it’s impossible.’ In the same way, it seems to me, it’s impossible to accept and get used to unjust verdicts. A court cannot be just by halves. Otherwise we shall never be able to remedy the situation.


Translated by Mary McAuley

An interview with Mara Polyakova on trial by jury, equality of arms and other matters [Advokatskaya gazeta]

posted 2 Apr 2018, 08:06 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Apr 2018, 08:49 ]

14 March 2018

An interview with Mara Polyakova by Konstantin Katanyan. Mara Polyakova is a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, chair of the Independent Council of Legal Expertise, general director of the Centre for Legal Expertise and Legal Assistance, member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, and chair of the Human Rights Council’s Standing Committee on Legal Matters.


Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source Advokatskaya Gazeta]




Mara Fedorovna, does the Council you head conduct independent reviews of appeals and court cases sent to you by human rights organizations? Is that all that’s needed today, independent reviews of legal cases?

The Independent Council for Legal Expertise has always been independent, has never been associated with politics, with any party, or else we would lose the meaning of our work, since we wouldn't be able to be objective. That's why we have always focused solely on legal standards and defending the rights of individuals.

Ella Pamfilova invited me to the Presidential Human Rights Council on the basis of the very specific work we do.

Can you remember important proposals that you put forward that were adopted?

It was my appeal to the Constitutional Court, brought jointly with other appeals, that brought about the suspension of the death penalty in Russia. The appeal was submitted about a case where a young man whom I considered innocent had gone through all the courts but nonetheless had been convicted for something he did not do. This happened in a region without trial by jury.

Since I am a member of the Presidential Human Rights Council, I took part in preparing proposals for the President of Russia. For example, we worked to repeal the three-year term for new judges. This term served as a filter mechanism for judges disliked by their superiors. Those who did not unquestioningly do the bidding of their superiors had no chance of still being a judge at the end of this term. We repeatedly appealed to the Russian President, and eventually this provision was repealed.

In the Human Rights Council, we sought to expand the categories of cases eligible for trial by jury. This is the fourth convocation of the Human Rights Council of which I have been a member, and there was never a meeting with the President when we did not talk about trial juries. Tamara Morshakova, Sergei Pashin, Yury Kostanov, and Igor Pastukhov have all addressed this topic. And now from June of this year there will be juries in district courts.

This is also your achievement. But is a jury enough to produce a fair verdict?

I think that for all their shortcomings, the jury trials that will take place from June this year will be better than trials where there only professional judges are sitting. It's possible that jury trials will have their own shortcomings, and it's possible that in practice there will be things that we don’t agree with, but on the whole things will be better than before.

But won't it be difficult to put together a jury in a district court, even a jury of just six people?

It will probably not be a simple matter. Especially at first. I recently went with members of the Human Rights Council out to the regions where we met with senior judges to find out how ready they were to work with juries. First of all, there won’t be that many trials that will have juries. Second of all, the courts are confident that they can take on this work.

In Samara, for example, courts sent out cards asking if people would want to be jurors. And many people responded that they would want to. Of course not everyone can. Some fear losing their jobs and others don't meet various criteria.

When the Human Rights Council travelled to Samara, we spoke to the governor and judges, something which is very important given this process will be getting media coverage. People don't know what awaits them, they don't understand what problems could arise. And this happens not only in the regions, but also in Moscow. Therefore, a lot of work must be done with potential jurors.

The media's role here is very important. There should be role plays on television, and explanations should be given in broadcasts and articles. Justice is a very valuable thing.

In the future, we would like to educate potential jurors. Jointly with the Council of Judges, we have created a "Jurors' Club," and we will bring in former jurors to work with people. It's very important to get employers interested so they don't stop their employees from getting involved. For example, there could be tax incentives to get employers interested.

More than once the press has mentioned pressure being put on jurors. This is hardly likely to encourage people to participate. Rather it will scare them off.

Jurors with whom we have met have not felt intimidated. And we have interacted with a great many people who have participated in serious trials.

It is usually those who have had no previous experience who are most fearful. Those who have already been jurors have said that they only had one concern – not to come to a wrong decision. Even, years later, many of them find the trials going through their minds, and worry whether the verdict they reached was the right one.

I know of one court case where, before announcing the verdict, the jurors all went to church to ask God’s help in reaching the correct verdict.

Do people still have a conscience? Or is that something specific to our way of thinking in Russia?

As a prosecutor, on a visit to the USA, I observed jury trials. There they are very much disposed to trust some of those involved in a trial and sometimes fail to pay attention to evidence.

Our jurors are very sensitive to the fate of those on trial. And, as practice shows, they pay almost no attention to the nationality, gender, occupation or income of the individual on trial.

When I worked as a prosecutor, we often staged mock trials in which we played out a pretty provocative case, a case where, in a real court, the result would have been unjust – and an innocent person found guilty. One of the sets of jurors consisted of professionals (prosecutors and judges), and the other of ordinary, people from the street as they say. We put them in separate rooms to discuss the verdict. Despite this being a mock trial, the jurors “from the street” would become very stressed, anxious about taking a wrong decision, even taking sedatives. Then, together with the prosecutors and judges, we looked at their discussions. And we became convinced that people the initial negative impression of the role of the accused in the case was not decisive for members of the jury. They started to study all the evidence carefully, became convinced that some of the details did not add up, and reached the conclusion ‘not guilty’.

In another mock trial, in which incidentally [the prominent lawyer] Genri Markovich Reznik took part, we had a team of 11 elderly women and one very elderly man. The case involved violent rape and murder. The old man even cried during the trial and the women were very upset. And, despite a very fiery, artistic performance by the prosecutor, they too came to a verdict of not guilty, stating that they were not convinced by the evidence presented. In the actual case, the defendant had been sentenced to the highest penalty – the death sentence. Subsequently the individual was acquitted.

Today these kinds of role-plays are held in a range of different auditoria. Recently Sergei Pashin, a member of the Human Rights Council, took the part of judge in a moot court at the Kutafin Moscow State Law University. How useful is this kind of training session?

Very useful. At present role-playing is practised in many of the regions, it is used to improve the skills of judges and prosecutors. But, for some reason, defence lawyers are rarely invited to participate, although in jury cases their participation is essential. Incidentally, defence lawyers also hold training sessions and also practise for appearance in jury trials.

You said that the judicial system appears to be gearing up to increase the number of jury trials. What about the Investigative Committee and the Public Prosecutor’s Office? Will it also be necessary for these bodies to undergo far-reaching changes?

There is certainly a need for change. When jury trials were first introduced in Russia, the Public Prosecutor’s Office was utterly opposed, claiming that the investigators and the public prosecutors were not ready to work within a system of this kind. We asked how many years it would take to bring these prosecutors up to speed and demonstrated that juries should become a quality control mechanism of sorts, forcing investigators to set the bar higher for their work.

Later on, after jury trials had become established practice, the Public Prosecutor’s Office adopted the line that their introduction had achieved the desired result, and that the standard of work delivered by investigators had improved. The public prosecutors themselves did in fact begin to prepare more carefully for trials. I therefore believe that jury trials also serve as an incentive to improve the quality of justice and the quality of indictments.

I nevertheless understand that jury trials are not enough on their own, and that a broad range of measures will be needed to achieve a more effective judicial system, not to mention the measures needed for the pre-trial stage. At the moment, for example, I receive a large number of complaints about the use of torture and the planting of drugs, all at the investigations stage.

Innocent people are being tortured into confessing to crimes. They retract their testimonies in court, but the fact of torture cannot be proven in court, and judges base their decisions on the evidence of the confessions. I acknowledge that there may indeed have been no torture in certain cases, but in others there can be no doubt about it. That is why I believe that we should remove the motivation for torture by mandating that confessions given at the pre-trial investigation stage which have not been confirmed before the court – whether or not they were given in the presence of a lawyer – should not be regarded as admissible evidence. Another point I find incomprehensible is why no mention can be made of torture in the presence of a jury, given that this is an issue which determines the credibility or otherwise of the evidence. If the proceedings are conducted properly, there is no reason why juries should not be able to handle this challenge.

The European Court of Human Rights has already handed down several rulings on the use of torture in Russia. We know that it continues from many conversations we have had not only with defendants, but also with members of the police force.

The Presidential Human Rights Council has been saying for many years that the criteria used to evaluate police activities should be reviewed, and the same thing applies to public prosecutors and to judges.

Not-guilty verdicts are few and far between, but it is even more alarming that the sides in criminal proceedings are effectively granted unequal rights. Why do we pay so little heed to defence pleadings?

Certain legal practitioners, and I am one of them, believe that lawyers in Russia should have the right to carry out parallel investigations, as they do in many other countries. Then they would have equal rights not only in court, but also at the pre-trial stage.

This is not the case when a public prosecutor arrives in court with carefully prepared documents, while the lawyer is forced to ask the investigator or the court for expert reports or opinions of whatever kind – requests which can be refused by the investigator and the court.

There is also an ethical dimension to this question. Judges sometimes place lawyers in an extremely humiliating position by refusing requests and speaking to them in a raised tone of voice. More than once I’ve brought students to watch a trial and then been extremely uncomfortable about the conduct of certain judges.

I once heard about a highly qualified legal academic of considerable standing who appeared before a court as a lawyer, and who was forced to listen to the judge making several comments to the effect that she should consult the Code. He finally quipped, "Have you ever actually read the Code?” To which she meekly replied, “I wrote it, actually.” And she was indeed one of its authors.

Perhaps judges would behave better if audio recordings were made of trials.

It’s a question of transparency. Audio recordings are a must, but we are still waiting for them. And all the while people are becoming accustomed to behaviour like this by judges towards the other parties in the proceedings, and starting to perceive it as normal.

I have given lectures to both judges and public prosecutors. We dicuss matters freely, and judges tell me that they started working in courts because they wanted to render justice. Then life got in the way, and they were forced to adopt a different mode of behaviour and operate in survival mode. The current criteria for evaluating the effectiveness of judges must be revised.

What do you think of the proposal of the Supreme Court to reduce the burden on judges, to free them from explaining the motivating part of a decision?

I know that in the West in most countries there is no motivation for a decision. I'm afraid that such an innovation will deprive our citizens of the opportunity to assess the legal logic of a judge. If it is impossible to understand why the court came to a certain judgement, then how can one contest the decision?

I understand that some judges are overworked. I understand that under such a workload it is impossible to work in a manner worthy of the calling of a judge, it’s impossible to follow the spirit and letter of the law. It’s easy to miss something important when you are rushing. Here judges can fall into a trap. In view of this, it is necessary to develop arbitration courts that could, as before, be formed by NGOs, universities, and the like. Arbitration courts in other countries take on a significant part of the burden. In the Presidential Human Rights Council we repeatedly wrote to the Presidential Administration and we told the President himself more than once that chairs of courts should not be appointed. Each court should elect its own chair and regular rotation of the court leadership is also necessary. When they are appointed from above, they come to follow the lead only of those on whom their position depends. This is completely wrong.

Which human rights issue, in your opinion, can be called the most global and relevant?

As I am more familiar with criminal law, I would say the problem of torture. We’ve already spoken about this.

But there is another interesting issue. We have found that in cases of bribery, both the people giving the bribes and those who receive them, having agreed to a plea bargain, implicate a third person not under investigation at that time, against whom there was no evidence. As a result, those who were caught red-handed are released from custody and receive a significant reduction in their sentence. The person against whom they testified would get a real term in prison, and a long one at that.

I’m very concerned by this state of affairs. More serious safeguards are necessary against the denunciation of innocent people in cases where accusations are based on the testimony of people with whom a plea bargain has been concluded.

Are they convicted as bribers or as bribe-takers?

Allegedly they took bribes in order to transfer them to third parties.

You set up the Centre for Legal Expertise and Legal Assistance, offering lawyers assistance in solving complex practical problems. Tell us, how do you assess the work so far?

Lawyers are interested in the opinions of our experts on a variety of issues. For example, if they are unsolvable both in theory and practice. In such cases, lawyers present the government bodies with the conclusions of authoritative academic legal experts who are known in Russia and abroad. As a rule, Russian lawyers know about these experts from their work or because they were taught by them.

We are able to attract such experts to prepare appeals both for domestic courts and for the European Court of Human Rights, as well as in order to help in the formation of legal opinions on complex criminal, civil, administrative and other cases.

Lawyers previously contacted us when they have required an expert opinion. The Centre is able to organise the preparation of documents by lawyers with many years of practical experience, who know the latest trends in the development of academic opinion in various fields of law. We also prepare reviews of judicial practice that may be useful for lawyers. I have in mind the practice of our higher courts, as well as the European Court of Human Rights.

In addition, we intend to conduct training courses for lawyers to increase their competence, to familiarize them with innovations in legislation, and to analyse the complex problems of legal practice. The highly popular Sergei Pashin, Tamara Morshchakova and other well-known lawyers will take part in our training sessions.

Sessions where they participate are eagerly attended not only by lawyers but by judges from Russia’s regions too. From time to time issues accumulate that they have not resolved either through legislation or via judicial practice. Our experts sometimes find a way out of the most complicated situations.

Who contacts you the most often for expert opinion?

We work very closely with lawyers from human rights organisations. They know us, turn to us and send us case materials so that we can give an opinion that can be submitted to the court or to government bodies. Not all courts accept such opinions. The Constitutional Court, however is now accepting the opinions of academic legal experts and has even included in its regulations such a notion as "amicus curiae."

In addition, we conduct training for lawyers of human rights organizations to increase their competence.

Are there practising trial lawyers among the experts who prepare these opinions?

Of course. Above all, they include Yury Kostanov, Sergei Nasonov and Igor Pastukhov.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds, Mary McAuley, Matthew Quigley, Nina de Palma


Zoya Svetova on the case of Magomed Mukhiev, held on remand and denied hospital treatment [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 30 Mar 2018, 09:48 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 30 Mar 2018, 10:19 ]

14 March 2018

By Zoya Svetova, journalist, human rights activist, laureate of the Moscow Helsinki Group's Human Rights Award and former member of the Moscow Monitoring Commission

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy]



There is a VIP prison in Moscow. It is called Pre-Trial Detention Centre No. 99/1, or Matrosskaya Tishina. Or Kremlin Central.

As a rule, those held in this pre-trial detention facility are suspects in high-profile cases that are being investigated by the FSB. But unlike the Lefortovo pre-trial detention facility, which belongs to the FSB and where all the prisoner’s living conditions are arranged in such a way as to suppress their will in every possible way, to force him to admit guilt and basically to sing like a canary, conditions in 99 / 1- are quite good. 

There is hot water (there is only cold in Lefortovo) and the cells have a fenced toilet (which is not the case in Lefortovo). You can send a letter by e-mail to the person detained, pay for the answer and then receive a scanned reply from the inmate (a facility which naturally does not exist in Lefortovo). 

The former head of this "heavenly place," Ivan Prokopenko, requested that I write nothing, good or bad, about his prison. But he is gone and now I can write. One detainee is currently an Ingush businessman, [Magomed] Mukhiev, who is accused of an economic offence. I do not know what exactly he is accused of and who he is. 

The only thing I know from his lawyers is that this Mukhiev, for some incomprehensible reason, is being denied a medical examination at the hospital. He vomits almost every day. During the investigation he has lost 42 kilograms (!!!). He has chronic pancreatitis and, I recall, it was exactly this kind of illness that Sergei Magnitsky had, who was not given medical treatment and who died in the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention facility. 

Mukhiev’s lawyers have repeatedly asked the head of the detention centre, now A. Podrez, and the federal penitentiary service, to put Mukhiev in hospital, which would mean simply letting him go down several floors to the detention centre's medical unit.

I also appealed to the federal penitentiary service and to the deputy head of the medical unit, E.I. Larionova, and she promised that Mukhiev would be admitted. But for some reason he was taken to an ophthalmologist, although he needed a gastroenterologist.

The head of the detention centre, Podrez, categorically refuses to allow Mukhiev to be hospitalised. At first I thought that this was a tactic to pressure him to give evidence in the investigation. No, lawyers say, Mukhiev's investigation has already ended. Then why such cruelty? Lawyers insist that Mukhiev has lost a lot of weight, 42 kilograms, and he cannot eat anything, as eating makes him feel ill. It would be good to make a correct diagnosis so that it's not too late to treat him.

Or do they want to repeat the story with Sergei Magnitsky?

Why is the question of hospitalisation of a sick person decided by the prison warden, a man with the brains and the background of someone from the police service, who first of all thinks about the interests of the prosecution, and not the accused.

Mukhiev is also a Muslim, and no mullah has been allowed to visit him.

Translated by Chloe Tennant

A Series of Bloody Crimes. Participants in Opposition Actions Are Being Systematically Assaulted in St. Petersburg [MBK-Media]

posted 26 Mar 2018, 10:03 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 2 Apr 2018, 09:11 ]

5 March 2018 


By Yulia Shalgalieva 

Source: MBK-Media 


Another wave of assaults on opposition activists has rolled through St. Petersburg. Among the victims are human rights activist Dinar Idrisov, Open Russia member Oleg Maksakov, Solidarity activist Vladimir Shipitsin, Artpodgotovka supporter Vladimir Ivaniutenko, and, possibly, the dead activist Konstantin Sinitsyn. All the victims figured on social networks in the Group of Unique People.

Late last year, the community, which includes the names of St. Petersburg opposition activists, was exposed yet again, with publication of their registered and actual addresses and other contacts. Figuring in the Group of Unique People in particular were Dinar Idrisov, Oleg Maksakov, Vladimir Shipitsin, Vladimir Ivaniutenko, and other opposition activists. Subsequently, attacks were carried out against many of them.

A similar website of similar orientation was uncovered back in 2016, and at that time other opposition activists who fell victim pointed out that detailed information about them had been published on the Whoiswhos.me website. The published information included all their personal information, up to and including addresses and bank card numbers. Sometimes an attack was preceded by threats from fake pages on social networks, and sometimes messages from trolls came in after an act of intimidation. An investigation by Fontanka established that the site with containing the personal data of bloggers critical of the regime was controlled by Evgeny Prigozhin’s “troll kitchen.” No links were ever found at the time between the attacks and the police “lists.” Now Roskomnadzor [Federal Supervision Agency for Information Technologies and Communications] has banned access to Whoiswhos.me. A year later, the situation has been repeated. As of today, thanks to the efforts of politician Boris Vishnevsky, the VKontakte team has blocked the page with the activists’ information.

“Deputy Maksim Reznik and I have sent multiple complaints to law enforcement agencies regarding this site’s activity and have received jaw-dropping responses. Either we were informed that ‘the site is inaccessible’ (although I personally have had no problem visiting it) or the police ‘did not see a connection between the above-indicated criminal acts.’ Meanwhile, the Petersburg Internet publication Fontanka.ru even then had established a link between this site and the ‘troll factory’ of the not unknown ‘Kremlin chef’ Evgeny Prigozhin. I’m not going to say that Prigozhin is involved in the indicated site on VKontakte. But the fact that all these sites with blacklists are performing the same dirty role is obvious,” Boris Vishnevsky says.

As of today, if you attempt to follow the link, you get a message that “The community has been blocked in connection with a possible violation of site rules.”

Oleg Maksakov

The latest member of the “Group of Unique People” to be attacked in St. Petersburg is Oleg Maksakov, a member of the Open Russia movement. On Monday, 19 February, two men were waiting for him as he came out of an elevator. He could not make out their faces since the bandits had covered them with scarves.

“One of them dealt me a blow that caused me to lose consciousness. While I was unconscious they continued to beat me. I came to in the elevator, walked to my apartment and called an ambulance and the police. The policemen took my statement, and soon an ambulance came to take me to the hospital, where I spent several days,” said Oleg.

Earlier, Oleg’s wife had seen the attackers. Half an hour before the attack, she had gone to take the dog for a walk and noticed two men hanging out in the stairwell, obviously waiting for someone. “It put her on her guard, but no one could have suspected how it would all end. A woman was with them who got into the elevator with my wife, trying to get into a conversation with her and get as close as possible to our apartment. I presume her role was that of informer, to determine that I had left the apartment and to tell the other two. I was leaving the apartment as my wife got off at our floor with the other woman. I said goodbye to my wife and went to the elevator,” Oleg remembers.

Oleg is convinced that the attack on him was only part of a plan to hunt down opposition figures: “What unites all of us are our opposition views. There were analogous incidents in 2016 — first people received threats on social media. Then journalists from Fontanka conducted an investigation. They revealed that the messages came from Prigozhin’s ‘troll factory.’ It is possible that again it is people associated with him.”

Oleg believes that “most likely, it is the same person behind all the attacks.” As of now, Oleg’s condition is complicated by a cold with a high fever. The hospital’s neurosurgery department diagnosed a mild concussion. “I have been helped very much by people’s kindness and sympathy. I will continue everything that I did before, even double and with new enthusiasm — what happened has only rallied us and made us angrier,” said Maksakov. Although Oleg is convinced there is no hope for an objective investigation under the current regime, he filed a report with the police. At present, an investigation is being conducted, but the police are not revealing any of their findings, citing confidentiality.

Dinar Idrisov

At the beginning of this year on Proletarian Dictatorship Square, during the Voters' Strike on 28 January, human rights defender Dinar Idrisov was brutally attacked by three strangers. Dinar’s arm and cheekbone were broken, he sustained a closed head injury, concussion and other severe bruising.

The human rights defender was live streaming the protest on his Facebook page. When the crowd headed off from Smolny along Tver Street, Dinar set off with them. The street was blocked off at that point by prison vans. Dinar decided that he needed to film what was happening from above. He went into a building to the left of the direction the convoy was heading, along with a woman. It was a building on the junction of Tver and Odessa streets.

“I climbed to the top floors and decided to ring at the apartments and ask if they would let me in to do some filming,” Dinar relates. “No one opened up, and I headed back down. In the lobby, on the ground floor, I saw three men chatting amongst themselves. In front of me a woman came out from the entrance and went past them. Maybe I should have been more wary, but I set off briskly past them anyway, and that's when someone kicked me in the shins. I fell to my knees and right after that took a blow to the temple. By that point the woman had already left. Luckily, I was able to react and the blow only glanced me, so I didn't lose consciousness. They all piled on top of me and started beating me up."

The attackers grabbed and broke two phones that the human rights defender had on him, and the camera that he had been using to stream. After that, they began to hit him in the head methodically, mainly kicking him. Dinar tried to defend himself by putting his arm up, and they broke it. Suddenly, the beating was interrupted by the footsteps of some people coming down from upstairs. At this, the three men headed outside, leaving the human rights defender in the entrance. The residents took Dinar back to their place. In their apartment, he came to and had a wash.

"Then the doorbell rang,” Dinar recalls. “I reckoned those people must have started looking for me and were going around, floor by floor. That tells me that they weren't thugs but police operatives. They beat me up like professionals. If that first blow to the temple hadn't been glancing, then it may well have proved fatal. The residents of the apartment didn't answer the doorbell and didn't open the door. Later, one of them went out for a recce and, when they were sure that it was safe, they led me out through the back entrance of the building.”

After his experience, Dinar did not call the police or ambulance, and made his own way to A&E, then to a centre for facial trauma, and from there to the maxillofacial surgery unit of the hospital. The doctors diagnosed a fracture to the left cheekbone and bone fragments. They likewise suspected damage to the retina, but the eye turned out to be intact. On the right side, there was a haematoma in the temporal region, a closed brain injury and concussion. His arm was broken and required a complex operation and a pin. There was bruising to his chest and lumbar-sacral section – it was painful to sit, stand up or lie down. His ribs and internal organs were all intact. "You could say I was lucky, as all my internal organs are intact, " says Dinar, smiling.

On Monday, 29 January, a local police officer from the 76th Police Precinct of the Central District came to visit the victim in hospital. The police officer compiled an incident report on the crime. Dinar requested that a criminal case be opened and sent over to the Investigative Committee for the preliminary investigation. His reasoning for this was that force had been used against a person engaged in social, journalistic and human rights activity.

"I've been recognised as a victim but not yet interviewed as one. As far as I know, the CCTV recordings haven't yet been retrieved by the police. There's no proof, and now a second district investigating officer is carrying out inquiries. I'm hoping to see her next week", says Dinar.

Vladimir Ivaniutenko

On 27 December in the early morning Artpodgotovka activist Vladimir Ivaniutenko was walking along a street in the Kirov district of St Petersburg to the polyclinic. It was still dark and there were no people about at all. Vladimir heard somebody running after him and stood aside a little so as to let them pass. A second later, he received a blow to the head.

"I seized the attacker by the hand and saw an electroshocker. At that moment a second man ran up to me. He tried to hurt me with a combat knife. At one moment he succeeded in striking me and I received a cut with the knife that pierced my liver and spleen. When I stepped back, I slipped, and fell on my back. That was when the attacker with the electroshocker held me. At that moment his accomplice with the knife struck me a second time in the area of my heart. After that the man with the electroshocker said calmly in Russian, and without any accent: "Well, let's go".

The whole attack lasted no more than three minutes. The attackers turned round and quickly left. A random passer-by called the police and an ambulance to the scene. The police were the first to arrive and had time to interrogate the victim before the arrival of doctors. He was able to describe the attackers. They looked around 40-45 years old, ethnic Europeans. The first one was strongly built, approximately 1,85 m tall, wearing a dark jacket, trousers of the same colour, and a black cap. The second was thin, around 1,75 m tall, wearing a blue jacket, dark trousers, and a dark knitted cap.

"They didn't take anything from me, neither money, nor telephone. They didn't even ask what I had on me. They set about killing me in a business-like manner," Vladimir stressed.

The ambulance team took the wounded person to the Kostushko hospital where it turned out that he had injuries to his liver, spleen and the intercostal artery in the area of the heart. He also had numerous other cuts and bruises. The doctors saved Ivaniutenko's life. On 10 January he was released from hospital. The morning of the same day he was interrogated by an investigator. A criminal investigation has been opened under Article 11 of the Russian Criminal code, "Intentional infliction of severe bodily harm with the use of weapons".

The victim suspects, in the first place, that his attackers were members of the National Liberation Movement (NOD) or “Novorossy” [supporters of the creation of "Novorossiya" in eastern Ukraine]. Ivaniutenko asserts that representatives of both groups often expressed dissatisfaction with his political views, his attitude towards Ukraine, the Crimea and Syria.

Vladimir recalls: "Novorossy often wrote to me via social networks: ‘What we spill our blood for in Gorlovka?’ and ‘It’s time to put this fat boar to the knife’."

Ivaniutenko’s lawyer, Vladimir Belyakov, insists that the investigators consider all possible explanations for the attack.

Vladimir Shipitsyn

Member of the movement “Solidarity St. Petersburg,” Vladimir Shipitsyn regularly protests in St. Petersburg. He organises protests against aggression against Ukraine and repressions against Crimean Tatars, and in defence of political prisoners. On his social web pages Vladimir actively criticises the politics of the current government. According to the activist, on the morning of 25 October he returned home from the train station after a trip abroad. “Approaching my home, I saw a suspicious “southern-looking” man, around 35-40 years old. He came towards me at a entrance and sprayed something in my face, and then started to hit me with a knuckleduster. I fell to the ground and tried to ask him why.

The person apparently from the Caucasus said: “Don’t write any more **** about good people. You know whom I have in mind. Next time will be worse for you!”

Afterwards the assailant took a photograph of the victim on his phone and made off. As soon as Vladimir came to, he immediately phoned the police. To tell the truth, they did not hurry to take a statement – they first recommended he seek medical help. In the hospital they diagnosed bruising and head injuries, which they consequently stitched up.

“The doctor said that the important head areas were not affected,” said the activist. “The beating was done professionally, skilfully in order to scare, but not kill.”

On the evening of that same day the victim contacted the 58th police department. It turned out that they weren’t taking any more statements that day, and he was advised to come back the next day.

Vladimir Shipitsyn has repeatedly received anonymous threats over the internet. On the social media site “Vkontakte,” people using fake identities wrote that if he does not stop taking part in protests in support of Ukraine, then they will “put the blame on him for all drug crimes.” Shipitsyn has stated with certainty, that the attack could only be linked with his political views.

“I am 96% certain. The attack was connected with politics. I have absolutely no debts or other personal problems. I write only about politics on the internet. I didn’t tell anybody at all about when I was returning from the trip. Probably the attacker was conducting surveillance of my home,” the Solidarity activist suggested.

Konstantin Sinitsyn

The body of Konstantin Sinitsyn, an invariable participant in protest actions, was found in the entryway of his own building in St. Petersburg. He was beaten to death on the eve of a 28 January action. The killer has been arrested. According to Fontanka, it is a stockworker named Vasiliev. According to the investigation, he and Sinitsyn had a conflict on domestic grounds, and there was a fight that resulted in fatal traumas to the head. A criminal investigation was opened under Article 111 (Section 4), “Intentional infliction of serious bodily harm leading due to negligence to the victim’s death.”

Konstantin Sinitsyn regularly took part in opposition events in Petersburg. He supported the events organised by Aleksei Navalny’s supporters, the protests by long-distance truckers and he took part in the protests against the handover of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Orthodox Church. Rally participants remembered his habit of wearing a hard hat, on which Sinitsyn put opposition slogans. He also took a lot of photographs and wrote on social networks about the actions that had taken place.

The activist’s friend, human rights defender Dinar Idrisov, does not rule out the possibility of political motives for Konstantin’s murder. “I would not want to express any suspicions, but an entryway is a very convenient place for an attack. There were very many blows to the head, too. Not only that, it’s obvious that they were being careful to hush up the incident on the eve of the 28 January action,” the activist conjectured.

Cases still not declared to be related

Statements from the victims are being reviewed by different police departments. Right now, there is no information about the examinations conducted: the facts have not been made public. Lawyer Igor Shanurenko believes that the cases are unlikely to be linked into a series.

“For this to happen, a specific investigator has to express a desire to sort out this political case, collect the materials on similar attacks, and start to work the cases. Decisions like this, I think, if they are ever taken, then it is only at the level of the Interior Ministry police leadership. No one in a district office would take on that kind of responsibility. If there had been such a decision, we would have been informed officially. I don’t think the police are going to establish the identities of the attackers and combine these cases. One can only guess the reasons behind this conduct on the part of law enforcement. I’m not an operative, but I know there are no crimes without witnesses and clues. All we can do is turn to jurists and the public.” Igor is certain that, “A high-quality investigation is needed not only for the victims but for society, too.”

Translated by Anna Dvoryanchikova, Frances Robson, John Tokolish, Lindsay Munford and Marian Schwartz.

Valery Borshchev: Prosecutions for alleged terrorism in Penza and St. Petersburg cause for concern [Penza News]

posted 19 Mar 2018, 10:32 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Mar 2018, 10:37 ]

14 March 2018 




Valery Borshchev – member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, member of the Council of Human Rights Defenders of Russia, chair of the board of the Social Partnership Foundation 



Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: PenzaNews



Valery Borshchev has expressed concern about the prosecutions related to an alleged terrorist network, whose members have, according to investigators, been active in several cities of the country, including St Petersburg and Penza.

“It seems to me this is a very serious case. It is serious from the federal point of view because it is gives cause for concern. We have become accustomed to Muslims being charged with terrorism since they are regarded as agents of Islamic State (IGIL, or DAESH in Arabic, the terrorist group whose activity is prohibited in Russia). But now charges of terrorism have been brought against young people who have no connection to Islam,” the human rights defender told the correspondent of internet agency PenzaNews while visiting Penza to take part in court proceedings regarding extension of pre-trial detention of the defendants, including Dmitry Pchelintsev, Vasily Kuksov, Ilya Shakursky, Andrei Chernov and Arman Sagynbaev.

Valeri Borshchev added that he doubts that those arrested took part in the illegal activities of which they are accused.

“They are anarchists or anti-fascists – or however they define themselves. One might argue about the ideas they profess or are drawn to, but they have nothing to do with terrorism. All this raises huge doubts – the investigation itself, the charges that have been brought,” Borshchev remarked.

He pointed out that information about torture of defendants in St Petersburg, which has appeared in the media, has been confirmed by members of the Public Monitoring Commission.

“We now know that in Penza the accused decided to cooperate with the investigation, but they have been required to sign a statement that they have no complaints against the investigation. This is also a fact. But why write such a statement if you have no complaints? This is a sign of weakness,” said Valery Borshchev.

He said he would advocate for the criminal investigation to be supervised by the General Prosecutor’s Office and the human rights ombudsperson, Tatyana Moskalkova.

Translated by Frances Robson

Sergei Pashin: Bill put forward by Irina Yarovaya ignores the issue of child neglect [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 19 Mar 2018, 08:45 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 19 Mar 2018, 08:51 ]

12 March 2018 


Sergei Pashin, retired federal judge, law professor at the Higher School of Economics, and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and the Presidential Human Rights Counci, speaking in an interview with Natsionalnaya sluzba novostei.

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group  [original source: Natsionalnaya sluzhba novostei]



Irina Yarovaya, deputy speaker of the State Duma who thinks that the punishment of juvenile offenders should include educational measures, has proposed amendments intended to humanise existing legislation. The proposal affects only juveniles committing a first offence of a petty or medium nature. At present a court can sentence juveniles who ‘slip up’ to educational measures rather than to a prison sentence. However, in practice this only happens in 6% of cases, according to Izvestiya.

Sergei Pashin, a retired federal judge, professor on the law faculty of the Higher School of Economics, a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and of the President’s Council on Human Rights, explained in an interview with the National News Service (Natsionalnaya sluzhba novostei) one important reason why educational measures play such a small role, namely the problem of neglected children.

‘Humanisation and the introduction of educational measures is of course a good thing but, to do this, first you must change court practice. And, second, you need to address the problem of child neglect. This is because educational measures are closely related, for example, to the child being placed under the oversight of parents. If the child is neglected, if its parents are not coping with anything, the court quite simply cannot make use of such a measure because it clearly will be of no effect. Placing juveniles in a special school or a special technical school is not much better than placing them in young offenders’ institution. That’s why today such measures are so little used’ Pashin explained.

Solving the problem of child neglect can become the key to reducing juvenile crime, given that a large number of crimes are committed because of this.

‘For the greater part, crimes are committed by juveniles who have family problems. In the main these are crimes, such as hooliganism, stealing cars, and of course mercenary crimes. Also fighting and violent crimes. Sometimes it’s robbery, mugging, and so on,’ the expert explained.

Pashin also emphasized that juvenile offenders are rarely sentenced to real terms in prison.

‘Any humanisation measure is a good thing. It’s a different matter that juveniles, and in particular those who come before the court for the first time, are not given realistic sentences. Fewer than two thousand juveniles are at present serving sentences in juvenile colonies. This means that for the great majority suspended sentences are being used. Essentially, it is the parents who answer and pay for the damage caused by juveniles,’ said Pashin.

Izvestiya reports that the authors of the initiative headed by Irina Yarova have announced a competition, starting on 12 March. Students and graduate students of leading universities are invited to propose new measures of an educational nature, and to present them to the Duma at the end of May.

Translated by Mary McAuley

Sergei Pashin: Provocative behaviour of the victim may lead to the mitigation of the guilt of the accused [Ekho Moskvy]

posted 19 Mar 2018, 08:06 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Mar 2018, 04:33 ]

7 March 2018 

Sergei Pashin, a retired federal judge, professor on the law faculty at the Higher School of Economics, and member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and of the Presidential Council for Human Rights speaks in an interview with the radio station Ekho Moskvy 

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Ekho Moskvy


Provocative behaviour of the victim may lead to the mitigation of the guilt of the accused. This was the comment made in an interview with radio station ‘Ekho Moskvy’ by Sergei Pashin, a retired federal judge, professor on the law faculty at the Higher School of Economics, member of the Moscow Helsinki Group and of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, and initiator of the implementation of trial by jury in Russia in the 1990s, in reaction to a statement made by the Speaker of Russia’s State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, on the accusations by female journalists against the Deputy Leonid Slutsky.

“Gross negligence of the victim is taken into consideration by both criminal and civil courts. Provocative behaviour in some specific cases can serve as a basis for the acquittal of the defendant or accused, and in some situations the acquittal will mean the reduction of compensation for the claimant, or a reduction of the punishment. That is, it will be seen as a mitigating circumstance”, he said.

Pashin added that civil and criminal offences assume that the guilty person is in violation of the law, and, in addition, that the violation results from an act that is either intentional or by negligence. “When deciding the question of guilt, the courts take into account the behaviour of the victim and their deviation from the law or common sense,” he remarked. 
Incidentally, in response to the question about possible sexual harassment towards journalists by Deputy Leonid Slutsky, the Speaker of the State Duma suggested that the correspondents change their job.

Earlier, the media published materials accusing Slutsky of harassing several journalists, who have not been named, from the parliamentary pool. After this, the Deputy CEO of the television channel RTVI, Ekaterina Kotrikadze openly accused the Deputy of harassment. Daria Zhuk, a producer with the television channel ‘Dozhd’, joined her, alongside BBC journalist Farida Rustamova.

Translated by Mercedes Malcomson


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