In Orenburg criminal investigation initiated five years after torture complaints


24 March 2014

It appears possible that criminal proceedings my be instituted five years after an offense. At least in Orenburg region, in situations concerning torture in the police. This is how long it took local investigators to start investigation into torture complaints filed with the Investigative Committee by Aleksandr Zhdan in 2009. Every step taken since then by the investigative authorities have been merely for the sake of appearances, but not to carry out an effective pre-investigation inquiry. That is why lawyers with the International Protection Department of the Interregional NGO «Committee Against Torture» have prepared an application to be filed with the European Court of Human Rights.

(Photo: Aleksandr Zhdan)

In July 2009 Mr Zhdan applied to the Orenburg regional branch of the NGO «Committee Against Torture» seeking legal assistance. According to the man, on 22 January 2009, when being a witness in criminal proceedings, he was apprehended by the police and taken to a department, where police officers tortured him with electricity. The severe torture provoked a stroke of cerebral apoplexy, and the officers had to take him to hospital. Aleksandr, who had suffered no health conditions before the detention, was after that granted a disability status, the II group according to Russian scale. In the course of his medical rehabilitation, arranged for by the Committee Against Torture, doctors managed to restore his speech function, but Aleksandr’s right hand and partly one leg will remain paralyzed for life.

In 2009, Mr Zhdan obtained no help from the authorities. Having applied to them for protection, the mad discovered the authorities to be in fact sabotaging the investigation.

Thus, for five years human rights defenders have been seeking justice at the national level. Lawyers have lodged dozens various complaints with the Investigative Committee, Prosecutor’s Offices and courts on Aleksandr’s behalf. The lawyers representing his interests have appealed against at least ten unlawful refusal to investigate. Twice courts have sustained claims for compensation for moral damage inflicted by the officers’ unlawful actions. However, there has been no progress in the criminal investigation, and the pre-investigation inquiry, which the relevant procedural law gives 3 days to be finished, has lasted for years.

In 2013 the Head of the investigative department in charge of Aleksandr’s complaint simply started to ignore court decisions. His failures to implement court judgments were established in court with the prosecutor’s active participation: court fount that none on the three decisions passed by courts in 2013 had been brought to effect by the department.

It was even surprising to learn in the course of the hearing of 21 March 2014 that investigators had at last initiated criminal investigation under Article 286 (3)(a) of Russian Criminal Code (exceeding official powers with use of violence).

«We have learned that the Investigative Department f the Investigative Committee for Orenburg region is right now under a check conducted by their Moscow colleagues. We can’t be sure if it is a coincidence or not, but within one week they have initiated criminal investigations into two situations we work on, and these are investigations that had been sabotaged by the authorities for years», says Timur Rakhmatulin, a lawyer working with the Committee Against Torture in Orenburg. «We now hope that this activity will not be ceased as soon as their colleagues go back to Moscow. As regards Mr Zhdan’s situation, we certainly will continue representing his interests, at both national and international levels. In the near future we are going to lodge an application with the European Court on Human Rights on his behalf. Anyway, restoration of justice at the national level is the most important objective».

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