The Committee Against Torture summarizes results of 2012

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30 December 2012

It has been a hard year… No, not this way. It has been a year of strenuous, interesting, meticulous everyday work of all the staff members of the Interregional NGO “Committee Against Torture”. Our lawyers in Nizhny Novgorod and Orenburg regions, The Republics of Mari El and Bashkortostan, despite all the difficulties and all the obstacles created by officials at all levels, have been doing their work: fighting impunity of criminals in police uniform, attaining restoration of violated rights of our applicants, suing for compensations, providing medical rehabilitation for victims to lawlessness, unveiling  inaction of those Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office officials who fail to use authority or willfully sabotage their work.

In 2012, Through our staff’s efforts:

–    Eleven law enforcement agents were convicted for crimes connected with human rights violations, five of them were sentenced to prison terms,

–    The total sum of compensations to victims ordered by courts reached more than two million rubles and a half.

–    Dozens of unlawful rulings and decisions of investigative bodies were quashed.

–    The Committee conducted checks on 134 applications: people claimed they had been tortured or subjected to inhuman treatment.

The lawyers not only worked on their “regional” cases but also were involved into rotation shifts in the Joint Mobile Group of human right defenders operating in Chechnya, which made their work even more complicated. By the way, in 2012 three of our colleagues, human rights defenders and journalist, underwent training in the JMG, and it was the first time a woman has taken part in the JMG rotation shifts. What is more, this year four of our lawyers headed by the Chairman of the Committee Igor Kalyapin participated in a joint mobile group under the Presidential Council for Human Rights which conducted a check in Penal Colony № 6 of Chelyabinsk region, where convicts were protesting against extortion and violence. Several colleagues of ours, who, apart from their main work, are members of Public Oversight Commission for Human Rights observance in detention centers for Nizhny Novgorod region, were examining detention conditions and conducting checks following complaints about violations in detention centers…

But let us start at the very beginning. Well, the year had a vigorous outset.

On January 17 we became aware that commanders of Chechen Special Purpose Police Units (OMON) had applied to investigative bodies of the Chechen Republic reporting Disclosure of a State Secret by Igor Kalyapin. The point is that Igor Kalyapin informed the public about the Police Units’ threats to shoot the investigation team if they enter the OMON quarters. As the Head of Regional Department for investigation of particularly important cases of the General Investigative Office of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation Igor Sobol notified, the Special Police superiors believed, this information comprised a state secret. A check basing on this application was conducted.

Igor Sobol’s investigation team, in cooperation with human rights defenders, investigates into the circumstances of abduction of Islam Umarpashaev by OMON staff members and the following inhuman and degrading treatment towards him. Journalists prepared a report on this case for the TV program “Central Television” (NTV channel), but the report had only been shown in the Far East and in Siberia when the TV channel administration banned it from broadcasting.http://www.youtube.com/embed/NJpB6Y8-NWI

Later, Nizhny Novgorod Regional Federal Security  Service Directorate initiated a check based on the alleged disclosure of the data of a preliminary investigation by Igor Kalyapin, which was conducted by Nizhny Novgorod Regional Department of the Investigative Committee. But the materials were referred under the jurisdiction of the Central Office of the IC. That was the third territorial investigative body trying to discover grounds for opening a criminal case against the human rights defender, after investigators in the North Caucasian Federal District and Nizhny Novgorod region.

From bad to worse.

On January 21 one of the Interregional Committee Against Torture lawyers, Anton Ryzhov, was detained by the police. The man was on his way from Chechnya, where he takes part in rotation shifts of the Joint Mobile Group on a regular basis. Having got off the train in Nizhny Novgorod, Anton Ryzhov was detained and taken to a police station of Nizhny Novgorod Line Directorate of the Ministry of the Interior of Russia on Transport, where his laptop and memory sticks were seized. The policemen searched the man and his belongings, and video recorded the process, they also took a photograph of the detainee without his consent, assertedly “for the database”. From the moment of actual detention till the time when the seizure records were drawn up, the human rights defender was allowed to call neither parents, nor colleagues. He could make a phone call only after the things had been confiscated. Later court found ALL the actions of the police unlawful: detention, search, laptop and memory sticks seizure, unauthorized photography, denial of the right to a phone call. Court was also satisfied that there had been an intrusion upon Anton Ryzhov’s privacy. It must be noted that half a year had passed before he received his unlawfully seized property back. The fact that his computer was sent to expert examination which was to determine if there was classified material of criminal proceedings, gives us reason to believe that the real cause of the detention was an attempt to find on the human rights defender’s computer classified materials of Umarpashaev’s case.

Pressure upon the Committee caused by its work in the Chechen Republic continued.

At the end of January unknown hackers deleted fair quantity of information from the website of the organization. They also places news on behalf of the NGO.  The anonymous authors were discontent that the Committee, as they stated, payed inadequately much attention to the Joint Mobile Group in Chechnya. This was one of the reasons why we completely rebuilt our old website.

You can read the full harassment chronicles of the Committee in 2012 caused by its work in Chechnya here.

In 2012 a number of different unprecedented events happened in our organization.

It was the first time when on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture an auto rally has been held. It was arranged by our Bashkortostan regional branch. As its participants report, the assembly was authorized, and no one hindered. A ground near the North Bus Station of Ufa city was chosen as the assembly point. While the CAT stuff members, social activists, a local blogger and journalists (http://ufa1.ruhttp://www.ria-bashkiria.com) were preparing for the rally fixing stickers and flags on their cars, a watchful police captain came over. He took pictures of the flags and called someone on the phone to report the mottoes: “We are against torture in the police!”, “26 June – International Day in Support of Victims of Torture”, and familiarized himself with the CAT’s brand marks. The watchful captain must have found nothing wrong. Then, a road police inspector instructed the drivers, and the cortege  drove around the city center. For there are usually traffic jams in Prospect Oktyabrya street this time of the day, the cars were not moving quickly, and people around could see the stickers and flags, some drivers were beeping. At the end the rally participants handed out pens, notepads and hand bills with information about June 26, told everyone interested about the situation with torture in the region.http://www.youtube.com/embed/pXDpzcIea6E

Another original way to approach the problem of torture was introduced by the Committee’s regional branch in the Republic of Mari El. They opened an exhibition “Torture in Modern History” in the Museum of GULAG (system of Soviet labour camps and prisons) where they displayed objects that policemen use as torture devices: gas masks, rubber truncheons, and handcuffs. There are also things that seem absolutely “peaceful”: plastic water bottles, empty champagne bottles, a rope. All these things in “skilled” hands of policemen sometimes turn into dreadful devices for obtaining the needed information.

The exhibition also contains information about the Committee Against Torture and facts from some public investigations. Viewers can read convictions and sentences against policemen who were found guilty of tortures. On the opening day the exhibition was visited by people who had become victims to torture in the police. They told the visitors of the museum what they had endured.http://www.youtube.com/embed/rR0SMw_9dhA

A momentous event happened on November 21. For the first time a regional police superior delivered formal apology to Mari El citizen who was battered by a special policeman. The pioneer in abiding by the Federal Law “On Police” (article 9 (3)) is the Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Mari El Vyacheslav Bunchev. The text on the Ministry’s website read: “Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Mari El, Police Major-General Vyacheslav Bunchev, on behalf of the Ministry Senior staff and on his own behalf apologizes to Konstantin Almakaev, Sovetsky town citizen, for unlawful actions of a former staff member of internal affairs bodies”.

(Photo: Minister of the Interior of the Republic of Mari El Vyacheslav Bunchev)

General Bunchev’s colleagues from Bashkortostan and Nizhny Novgorod acted otherwise.

On July 18 The Committee Against Torture received an astounding response to its request to a regional MIA Administration asking, pursuant to the law on police, to deliver formal apologies to people tortured by law enforcement agents. Those requests were sent to different regions within the campaign of human rights defenders devoted to the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

This is the full text of the letter: “The Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Bashkortostan considered your request to deliver formal apologies to people whose rights and freedoms were violated by law enforcement agents. Please be informed that your request is referred to Nizhny Novgorod Prosecutor’s Office for review of its legality. Head of the Department of Treaty and Law of MIA of the Republic of Bashkortostan A. Khalikov”.

We don’t understand what questions exactly are before the Prosecutor of Nizhny Novgorod region (his professional qualification seems to be estimated by Bashkortostan policemen higher than the one of his colleague from Bashkortostan, that’s why it’s he who is to receive the request). Is it legal to apply to the police? Is it legal for Mr. Kalyapin to apply to the police? Is it legal for Mr. Kalyapin to send a paper letter to the police? Is it legal to demand that the police abide by the law? Well, let it become the Prosecutor’s pain in the neck…

It is certainly wonderful that the police strives to follow the law in their work, fearing to break it, and securing themselves from possible breaches obtain legal advice of a prosecutor from another region. What if an illegal apology is going to be delivered? It’s a pity that the bright idea to send such a request to supervisory bodies doesn’t occur to policemen before they start to beat and torture people.

The behaviour of Nizhny Novgorod police appeared to be equally miraculous. This is how Oleg Khabibrakhmanov, a lawyer with the Committee Against Torture, describes the situation on his Facebook page: “A phone call from Main Administration of MIA for Nizhny Novgorod: “Good day, we have received a letter from you which contains request to deliver formal apologies to people whose rights were violated by law enforcement agents. The point is, we have never been requested this before, and therefore, we don’t have the corresponding blank form. Could you possibly give us some standard apology sample for us to copy? Or would you please tell us what is the right way to compose it?” This is that they decided on calling no other than human rights defenders!!! Let go all the emotions towards the lunacy of the question itself, but I can’t help picturing a pile of blank forms like that: “Apology № ________ to Mr./Ms. ____________ We apologize for unlawful actions committed by policemen on «___» _______ 201_ . Head of Main Administration of MIA”.

It was also the first time in the Committee’s practice when two former policemen apologized to a person they had beaten. Former policemen of Avtozavodsky district of Nizhny Novgorod Andrey Savinov and Roman Lukoyanov on the night of June 4/5 2012 battered Dmitry Nikolaev, who they suspected of bicycle theft. The two ex-policemen suggested a meeting in the human rights defenders’ office to apologize to the man and compensate for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages.

Roman Lukoyanov and Andrey Savinov, in the presence of their defense team and lawyers of the Committee Against Torture, started with their apologies: “Dmitry, we are here to set the matter right. We do admit our guilt and apologize to you for everything that happened”. Dmitry Nikolaev answered that he had forgiven the policemen and did not want prison sentences for them: “I am a father of two children, and I understand that if you go to prison, this will be, in the first place, a punishment for your families. I believe, this has already taught you a lesson”. The parties also came to a compromise concerning compensation for pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Taking into account the meeting and sincere repentance of both men, the Committee Against Torture lawyers, who represent Dmtry Nickolaev interests, asked the court for a sentence not involving deprivation of liberty.

Certainly, we can’t but mention the introduction into the structure of the Investigative Committee another specialized office which is to specialize in investigating crimes committed by law enforcement agents. The Office was established at the initiative of NGOs, and in the beginning human rights defenders greeted the news warmly, they also made a public statement full of optimism and living hope. Maybe, it would have become the crowning achievement of the year, not only for our organization, but also for the whole human rights community. Though, later it became clear that the newly established special office is unable to cope with its assigned duties and rather resembles stage-properties so far.

Some paradoxical situations have also happened this year.

For example, on March 10 members of the Public Oversight Commission for Human Rights observance in detention centers (POC) for Nizhny Novgorod region tried to examine the conditions of detention in police departments № 5 and № 7 of the Administration of MIA  for Nizhny Novgorod. The human rights defenders, acting pursuant to the corresponding federal law, had submitted a notification before the visit. Nevertheless, the heads of the mentioned police departments, with reference to a direct order from their superiors, denied the POC members’ access, which meant they committed an administrative offense in the meaning of Article 19.32 of the Code on Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation.

Later, a legal representative of the MIA Administration explained in court that “at the police stations detention facilities for administrative detainees are not provided, therefore there are no objects to public oversight at these police stations”. The fact that administrative detainees are nevertheless detained there despite the absence of any special facilities did not confuse the legal representative at all. It comes out that, to deprive a detained person of the right to receive support from members of the POC, it is quite enough to detain him or her in a place not provided for by the law.

On 11 May the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Court, Judge Ivan Suharev Presiding, held that the Investigative Department for Nizhegorodskiy district of IC RF is an investigative body. The doubt that the investigative department is indeed investigative occurred to one of its superiors – Igor Golubev. Grounds for applying to court for it to determine the procedural status of the Investigative Committee were the following: Lawyers of the Committee Against Torture, acting under a power of attorney as Nikolay Nikolaev’s legal representatives, filed a request to grant their access to the materials of the preliminary check following Mr. Nikolaev’s crime report. The Deputy Head of the Investigative Department for Nizhegorodsky district denied the request claiming that the power of attorney contained the authority to represent the applicant not namely in the “Investigative Committee”, but only in “investigative bodies”. The human rights defenders didn’t succeed in convincing the investigators that IC departments are in fact investigative bodies, and had to seek truth in court.

In August the conflict between a former policeman Aleksandr Kuznetsov and the man who he  battered on 23 May 2012, an owner of a tire workshop Mikhail Dudin, received an unexpected continuation. Having decided to fix the situation, Aleksandr Kuznetsov on 31 Jule came back to the workshop, but the men didn’t manage to arrange for the amount of compensation. Farid Zavurbekov, an inspector with the CAT, recorded the discussion during which the former policeman (by the way, he had succeeded in his attestation) was threatening the businessman with a gangland killing and boasting about his close connection with mafia bosses.http://www.youtube.com/embed/UYaadScmjcY

(Video: warning – foul language)

Another important event of the year it that the Chairman of the Committee Against Torture Igor Kalyapin has been appointed a member of the Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights. It was the first time when the Council has been built in consideration of the results of preliminary elections on the Internet, and only after them the President of Russia made the final decision. In the light of controversial attitude to the Council of the human rights community, Igor Kalyapin has repeatedly explained the reasons for his entering the Council.

Our lawyers started the new work quite soon. On November 29 Igor Kalyapin and three other staff members of the Committee Against Torture, participating in a joint mobile group under the Presidential Council for Human Rights, arrived in Kopeisk city of Chelyabinsk region to collect information in Penal Colony № 6, where convicts were protesting against extortion and violence.

Igor Kalyapin, as an expert of the corresponding work team under the Presidential Council for Human Rights, in his interview to the newspaper “Vzglyad” informed that “Convicts in the Penal Colony № 6 filed 356 complaints to the Investigative Committee. Among then there are 253 complaints about physical violence and torture, 161 – about extortion, 28 – about violation of the convicts’ labour rights, 20 – about inappropriate medical attendance”. The expert explained that the difference between the number of complaints and the number of violations is caused by the fact that some complains report several crimes at once. He also emphasized, that the convicts had filed complaints before, but their applications had always been denied. The prisoners also told human rights defenders about “voluntary financial contributions” of their relatives. This means that only those whose relatives payed bribes received privileges.

We regret to acknowledge that in 2012 the number of our applicants seeking help hasn’t decreased. Neither has there been any sufficient progress in our collaboration with the Investigative Committee and the Prosecutor’s Office. Neither has the year been marked with a successful completion of an effective police reform, nor with the agency’s staff professional development due to the new attestation.

Thus, we have no doubt that 2013 is going to be a year of strenuous, interesting, meticulous everyday work of all the staff members of the Interregional NGO “Committee Against Torture”.

Best Wishes for a Happy New Year!