Today, on 22 May 2018, the Orenburg Regional Court once again examined the three victims’ appellate appeal against the soft verdict of former police officers, which was previously examined by the appellate instance without their participation. The court panel consisting of three judges, passed a strange ruling, slightly changing the judgment of conviction, according to which the law-enforcement officers who committed the crime managed to escape from punishment.
(Victims Vyacheslav Sadovsky, Maksim Nimatov and Anton Ferapontov)
As we have previously reported, on 18 September 2017 the District Court passed a ruling with regard to ex-police officers Albert Akmanov and Vasily Zubikhin, who were charged with committing a crime under items “a, b” of Part 3, Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office using violence and special equipment”). The court reclassified the criminal act of the defendants to Part 1 of Article 286 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“abuse of office”) and sentenced the defendants to one year of imprisonment each, however, due to expiry of the period of limitations for bringing to criminal responsibility, the court released them from punishment.
Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture applied to the appeals instance on behalf of the victims with a complaint against the soft verdict. On 28 November of last year the Orenburg Regional Court examined this complaint without the participation of the victims or their representatives, since they received a notification with a wrong date of the hearing.
The background of this criminal case is the following. On 27 August 2008 eighteen-year olds Vyacheslav Sadovskiy and Anton Ferapontov together with a nineteen-year old Maksim Nimatov applied to the Orenburg office of the Committee Against Torture. They reported to human rights defenders that on 25 August 2008 they were detained by the police, taken to the Dzerzhinskiy District Department of Internal Affairs where they were battered and brutally tortured. For the whole night police officers were trying to obtain confession statements from them related to a number of different crimes: from the robbery of the beer stand to murder of the police officer. According to the applicants, in addition to «standard» battery the police put gas masks on their heads and blew cigarette smoke into the tube, hung them by the hands and legs tied behind their backs, everything was accompanied by battery with truncheons.
The victims state that the tortures lasted till the morning of August 26. The detainees were deprived of sleep and if they started falling asleep they were hit on the head.
The victims’ parents and other relatives, having accidentally learned that their sons are detained by the police, kept the watch near the building of the Dzerzhinsky District Police Department. It is worth pointing out the fact that for a long time the police tried to convince them that their sons were not in the building of the District Police Department. In the evening of 26 August, the police allowed the lawyers to see the young men. Despite the fact that the police officers threatened them with harsher treatment in case they change their testimony, the young men in the presence of the lawyers reported that they were forced to incriminate themselves under torture and to sign some procedural documents required for the authorities’ representatives.
The police officers illegally detained the young men for over 24 hours without making any charges. After the young men were released they first went to the first-aid station, and then to hospital, where the doctors registered all numerous bodily injuries: all the three were diagnosed with hematomas, bruises, joints dislocations, one of them was diagnosed with cerebral concussion, Vyacheslav Sadovsky had a broken rib, and Anton Ferapontov had a broken nose.
On the next day all the three young men and their parents applied to the investigative authorities with a crime report. The victims also applied to the Committee Against Torture for legal help.
Despite the traumas, confirmed by medical documents and numerous testimonies of witnesses who saw the young men without any bodily injuries at the moment of their apprehension, and testimonies of witnesses who saw the beaten up victims covered in blood taken out from the building of the Dzerzhinsky District Police Department, the investigative authorities dragged their heels initiating the criminal case. The check of the crime report that should have been conducted within three days lasted over five and a half years. Twenty two times the Investigative Department issued refusals to initiate criminal proceedings, which were declared illegal after the Committee Against Torture lawyers’ complaints.
Human rights defenders also managed to prove in court that the young men apprehension was illegal and to collect from the state the compensation for moral damage incurred by this illegal action.
Taking into account the persistent reluctance of the investigative authorities to investigate this incident at the national level, in spring of 2014 the members of the Committee Against Torture had to lodge a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of the applicants. Practically at the same time when it was lodged on 9 April 2014 the investigative authority initiated the criminal case based on the fact described above. The investigation of the case was assigned to the first department for investigation of major cases of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the RF for the Orenburg region.
On 17 December 2015 the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Orenburg started to examine this case. For eight months of judicial investigation fifteen court hearings were conducted, during which all the evidence available in the case were examined, the defendants, victims and numerous witnesses were questioned. Judicial investigation, as main part of the judicial proceedings, was conducted in full scope.
Oral arguments were scheduled for 5 August 2016. However, in the course of this court hearing State Prosecutor Svetlana Trofimova submitted a motion asking to return the criminal case to the Prosecutor’s Office to rectify the breaches of the indictment. In the opinion of Mrs Trofimova, it was not complete: no details of illegal actions of each of the defendants were provided, it is not specified how the defendants’ actions correlate with the bodily injuries of each of the victims, which is a violation of the defendants’ right to know what exactly they are accused of.
The court satisfied this motion and the criminal case was returned to the Prosecutor. In January 2017, after corrective measures with regard to investigation and indictment approval were applied, the criminal case was sent back to court for examination of its merits.
The relitigation lasted for over half a year. During the oral arguments the State Prosecutor asked to impose a penalty in the form of imprisonment: for Albert Akmanov – 3 years and six months prison term, for Vasily Zubikhin – 4 years prison term. The ex-police officers did not admit their guilt in their last word.
The long criminal proceedings resulted in judgment of conviction passed on 18 September 2017. However, judge Aleksey Kovalenko considered that it is not proved that it was Akmanov and Zubikhin who inflicted the bodily injuries to the victims, but declared them guilty of illegal apprehension of the young men and their detention at the District Department of the Interior. That is why the court reclassified the indictment for a softer legally defined crime – abuse of office without qualifying elements, such as using violence and special equipment. The court sentenced each of the defendants to one year of prison term, immediately after that the defendants were released from punishment due to expiry of the period of limitations. In addition, the court issued a separate ruling addressed to head of the Investigative Department of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for the Orenburg region Sergey Kolotov with regard to the red tape committed during the investigation of the crime.
Dissatisfied with the conclusions of the court of the first instance, which reclassified the ex-police officers’ to a softer legally defined crime, the victims applied to the Orenburg Regional Court with appellate appeals against the verdict. In addition, the appellate appeal was submitted by the lawyer of convict Albert Akmanov – he asked the court to acquit.
On 28 December 2017, lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Vyacheslav Dyundin, representing the victims’ interests, arrived at court and, to his surprise, learned that the appellate appeals had been examined a month before without participation of either victims or their representatives. At that time the court dismissed the complaints and the verdict was upheld.
With regard to this, Vyacheslav Dyundin applied to the appellate court with a complaint against the appellate ruling. Yesterday his complaint was dismissed and the case was returned to the Orenburg Regional Court for examination of the complaint against the verdict with a different composition of court.
Today, the panel, consisting of three judges, passed a ruling to change the judgement of conviction in the part of the term and place of sentence. The judge sentenced Akmanov and Zubikhin to eleven months of prison term each to be served in the colony-settlement, however, due to the expiry of the period for bringing to criminal responsibility, the court released them from punishment.
“Certainly, we are dissatisfied with the court ruling and intend to appeal against it to the court of cassation, and to file lawsuits on behalf of the victims against the Ministry of the Interior of Russia to request compensation of the damage inflicted by the crime, – lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Vyacheslav Dyundin comments. – At the same time, even now it can be asserted that the state failed to fulfill its obligations in the framework of the The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, because the police officers who applied torture, escaped from punishment for the crime they committed”.