The European Court of Human Rights posed some questions to the Russian authorities regarding the application of a well-known public figure from the Chechen Republic, Ruslan Kutaev. He reported that in 2014 he was beaten up on political grounds by the high-ranking Chechen officials, and then subjected to tortures with electric shocker and unfounded criminal prosecution for drugs storage.
As we have previously reported, on 21 February 2014, Mr Kutaev’s relatives applied to the Joint Mobile Group (JMG) of human right defenders operating in the Chechen Republic for legal assistance. They stated that a day before Ruslan had been abducted by unknown armed men in camouflage uniforms.
According to Mr Kutaev, he was kidnapped from his brother’s house in Gekhi village and taken to an unknown place. There, for about half an hour, the high-ranking officials of the Chechen Republic were beating up the detainee. Then the social activist was tortured in a basement, including with electric shocker, in order to force him to sign some papers. In the end, when he was brought to operational-search unit no.2 in Staropromyslovskiy district of Grozny, Mr Kutaev signed the documents for fear for his life.
At night Mr Kutaev was first transferred to the Urus-Martan District Department of the Interior, and then, at about 5 am – to a temporary isolation ward. Having refused to sign false confessions, Ruslan was brutally beaten once again. The battery continued until he agreed to all the conditions the torturers had set. Namely, he had to plead guilty to all the charges brought against him, and to promise to file no complaints concerning the torture he had been subjected to.
Nevertheless, during human rights defenders’ visit to the temporary isolation ward Mr Kutaev managed to tell Igor Kalyapin, a member of the Presidential Council for Civil Society and Human Rights, that he had been subjected to unlawful treatment in revenge for the conference dedicated to the 70-th anniversary of Chechen – Ingush deportation of 1944. The «unauthorized» conference raised anger of Ramzan Kadyrov.
The public investigation carried out by human rights defenders established facts giving reasonable grounds to believe that between February 20 and February 22, 2014, public officials acting in an official capacity repeatedly inflicted severe physical and mental pain and suffering on Mr Ruslan Kutaev for the purpose of obtaining from him confession statements to a criminal offense.
The Chechen authorities rejected any political motives in the case (the man was arrested one day after he had participated in the conference dedicated to the 70-th anniversary of Chechen – Ingush deportation, the conference was not agreed with the authorities), and argued that the prosecution of the 56-year-old Chechen politician was a standard and commonplace criminal case.
Examination of Kutaev’s complaint of battery and torture ended quite predictably – the Investigative Committee refused to initiate criminal proceedings, and human rights defenders’ appealing against this decision was to no avail: The Supreme Court of Chechnya dismissed the proceedings on the complaint, having noted that the legal assessment of Ruslan’s arguments on tortures which he had allegedly been subjected to is presented in the verdict on the criminal case.
On 7 July 2014 he was found guilty of criminal offenses under Article 228 (2) of Russian Criminal Code (illegal acquisition and possession of large quantity of drugs without intent to sell) and sentenced to a 4-year prison term to be served in general regime (minimum security) penal colony.
On 31 October 2014, the Penal commission of the Supreme Court of the Chechen Republic decided to quash the verdict of the court of the first instance commuting Ruslan Kutaev’s sentence to three years and nine months. The judges also considered a year of supervised release with prohibition on social activism to be excessive.
On 10 April 2015, lawyers with the Committee Against Torture submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of Ruslan Kutaev.
On 17 September 2020, this application was communicated. Today, the ECHR website published information about it. In particular, the Strasbourg judges posed the following questions to the Russian authorities:
– was the applicant subjected to torture in the period from 20 to 21 February 2014,
– did the authorities conduct an efficient investigation of the applicant’s torture complaint,
– was the applicant deprived of freedom in violtion of Article 5 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,
– was the apprehension of the applicant legal and not arbitrary,
– was the applicant prosecution politically motivated,
– were the judicial proceedings fair with regard to the applicant.
“It seems that the European Court is inclined to agree with our opinion about the political background of Ruslan Kutaev’s criminal prosecution. It is shown in the questions posed to the Government in the framework of Article 18 of the European Convention which is applied in cases of political prosecutions”, – head of the North Caucasus branch of the Committee Against Torture Dmitry Piskounov comments.