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Vera Vasilieva: Putin and Pichugin [Radio Svoboda]

posted 26 Nov 2017, 15:44 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 26 Nov 2017, 15:55 ]

8 November 2017

By Vera Vasilieva

Source: Moscow Helsinki Group [original source: Radio Svoboda
Photo: Vera Vasilieva

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation has refused to uphold the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on the case of Alexei Pichugin, thereby refusing to uphold Russian law as well. It is this commentary on the proceedings of the event which seem to me to be the most relevant and prescient. The ECtHR ruling of 6 June 2017 concluded that the Russia’s judicial system had violated the rights of the former Yukos employee on two counts on fair justice. Yet Russian legislation, as is known, should be an integral part of European law.

Undoubtedly, there are experts who could provide a judicial analysis of the decision of the Supreme Court Presidium that is far more professional than mine. I would like to express the opinion of an interested observer, however. From my point of view, the Supreme Court has not only crudely violated the law and demonstrated cruelty: it has also exposed the attitudes of Russia’s rulers.

The Pichugin case is very unpleasant for the Kremlin. It shows how a small person fell victim to a cruel system simply because he worked at Yukos, an oil company headed by someone (Mikhail Khodorkovsky) who decided to challenge the president. Pichugin was too decent to go against his conscience and commit perjury for the sake of his release, although it was repeatedly promised to him by the investigators. The authorities are unlikely to want to return to this case. That would mean reviving old disputes, cancelling an unlawful verdict and beginning the process anew.

Yet the case is not closed, and in the eyes of some people, it will not be closed for as long as Pichugin remains behind bars. Uncomfortable questions will keep cropping up. It is all too transparent. This involves a wide range of people, including representatives from those civilised States with which Russia is interested in collaborating. Whatever they may think or say in the Kremlin, they will pay attention to what those partners say.

Yet there was a simple way for Putin to avoid these complications and, so far as is possible after Pichugin’s 14 ½ years behind bars, to restore justice. In May 2017, Pichugin asked the president for a pardon, without an admission of guilt. The petition must be accepted by the Orenburg Commission before it can go before the Russian president. The Commission unanimously rejected Pichugin’s plea. The final decision is left to the president. There was no response from Putin, however.

The President had until 8 November 2017 to pardon Alexei Pichugin, who is a political prisoner according to the Memorial Human Rights Centre, and put an end to this extremely nasty smell. The deputy Prosecutor General Leonid Korzhinek, representing the Russian side in Strasbourg, could then say that Russia had complied with the ECtHR ruling on Pichugin and the latter could no longer hold any grievances against the State. Then, I'm sure, Alexei himself would have agreed that he had no further complaints.

The president of Russia would have been able to show the whole world, which already knows a great deal about the case, his best qualities. It did not happen.

Now, there will probably be an appeal by Pichugin’s defence to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, which oversees the implementation of the Strasbourg Court’s decisions. This will be the second appeal, as the ECtHR decision on the first Pichugin case has also not been implemented. For countries that do not comply with the provisions of the ECtHR, the Council of Ministers is authorized to apply paragraph 4, Article 46 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This refers the case to the Grand Chamber of the ECtHR in order to establish that a State has failed in its obligation to comply with the Convention. This doubtful “honour” has previously been awarded to Azerbaijan. It seems that Russia may now follow.

Translation by Chloe Tennant