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Russia : by leaving unchanged the sentence imposed on prisoners who had rebelled against systematic violent practices, the Supreme Court fosters a climate of impunity in prison


Paris, 5 September 2019

In a ruling issued on September 3, the Supreme Court left unchanged the judgement delivered against 17 participants in a resounding protest that took place in the Kopeysk penal colony (Ural region) in November 2012 in response to systematic torture practices. By confirming the criminal qualification of “mass riots” given to the peaceful protest and by failing to address the serious violations in previous phases of the proceedings, the Supreme Court has sent an alarming signal of impunity for the torturers.

On 3 September, after ten days of hearings, the judges of the Supreme Court left unchanged the sentences going from 3 years and 6 months up to 5 years’ imprisonment imposed at first instance by the Chelyabinsk Regional Court on the 17 accused. The Supreme Court judges refused all requests to hear witnesses submitted to them. The prisoners had no real opportunity to discuss the systematic practices of violence and extortion in the Colony No. 6, which had led them to rebel. In particular, the Supreme Court refused to hear a representative of the Presidential Council for Human Rights, who had carried out a thorough fact-finding mission in the prison immediately after the events and established the widespread nature of torture in the prison. Nor were the applicants able to demonstrate the peaceful nature of the protest movement, which was welcomed at the time by the local and national authorities, including the Prosecutor’s Office.

The Supreme Court also dismissed the claims regarding violations of fair trial principles that have marked the trial judgment and earlier phases of the proceedings. An international monitoring mission had though noted serious violations of human rights of the accused at the trial at first instance, including obstacles to the rights of the defence, the poor quality of the assistance granted to the accused by legal aid lawyers, and also, as a result of the criminal proceedings themselves, the violation of the freedom of expression, given the context of widespread torture in the colony at the time.

After the announcement of the verdict, the human rights organization Za Prava Cheloveka asked the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation, Mrs Moskalkova, to appeal in cassation against the Supreme Court’s appeal decision.

The breaches of fair trial affecting the procedure before the Supreme Court are all the more alarming considering the case was particularly well reported and the events in Kopeysk had got an exceptional media coverage in Russia and prompted the intervention of international organisations.

In its investigation report of 11 March 2013, the Presidential Council for Human Rights had established “massive, systematic and flagrant violations of the rights and interests of detainees”, concluding that “all these circumstances (had) led to a situation in which (…) the protection of the rights and interests of persons serving sentences in IK-6 prison (was) impossible”, leading “consequently to a protest action by the prisoners, having received public attention (…) throughout the country”.

In June 2014, the UN Committee against Torture had questioned the Russian authorities about the ill-treatment of detainees in Colony No. 6 (CAT/C/RUS/QPR/6), the complete inaction of the judicial authorities and the prohibition of the Public Monitoring Commission from entering the colony during the November 2012 unrest.

In addition, the Supreme Court’s judgment comes at a time when the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe is preparing to examine the measures taken by the Russian authorities to combat torture in prisons (Human Rights Meeting of 23-25 September, review of the execution of the judgment in the Buntov v. Russia case).

EPLN calls:

  • the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Russian Federation to file an appeal in cassation against the Supreme Court’s decision of 3 September, as requested by the organization Za Prava Cheloveka
  • the Russian authorities to ensure strict respect for the physical and psychological integrity of convicted prisoners and in particular to ensure that they are not subject to any reprisals by the prison administration;
  • the competent bodies of the Council of Europe to put pressure on the Russian authorities to initiate judicial proceedings to establish the acts of torture that took place in Colony No. 6 until November 2012.

Contact : Hugues de Suremain