The Nizhny Novgorod Prosecutor’s Office finds detention of a CAT lawyer and seizure of his computer unlawful

Событие | Пресс центр

24 February 2012

The Transport Prosecutor’s Office has found detention of CAT lawyer Anton Ryzhov and seizure of his computer unlawful. Such information has been obtained from the decision sustaining the victim’s claim in part issued by deputy head of the Nizhny Novgorod Transport Prosecutor’s Office E.A. Limonov. However, CAT members are not fully satisfied with the decision due to its inconsistency.

As reported earlier, on January 21, 2012 at the Nizhny Novgorod train station CAT lawyer Anton Ryzhov was detained upon leaving the train, he was returning from Chechnya where he had participated in the Joint Mobile Group of Russian human rights defenders. Ryzhov was taken to the police station of the Nizhny Novgorod Transport Interior Directorate, where he had his laptop and digital memory devices seized. Actions of the police were appealed against to a number of bodies, including the prosecutor’s office.

The check established that on January 20, 2012 an anonym introducing himself as a Chechen police officer but not giving his name or position had called the call centre of the Nizhny Novgorod Directorate of the Interior Ministry and reported that passenger “Anton Rezov” possessing digital memory devices with information of extremist nature would be in train no.32 Moscow-Kirov, carriage 12, berth 26. According to the anonym, “Rezov” was going to disseminate that information in Nizhny Novgorod region.

The Directorate of the Interior transmitted the information about the “extremist” to the Nizhny Novgorod Transport Interior Directorate. The police found out that the ticket for the given berth had been purchased by Ryzhov. Deputy Directorate Head Epishin ordered his subordinates to check the crime report. On January 21, 2012, upon arrival at the station, Ryzhov was detained by operative investigators Tsvetkov and Guschev and taken to the police station of the Nizhny Novgorod Transport Directorate under the Interior Ministry, where between 1:30 and 3:40 a.m. he was searched by operative investigator Tsvetkov in presence of attesting witnesses, his belongings were also inspected. During the inspection the police seized his Lenovo laptop, 3 SD memory cards and 4 USB storage sticks.

In its decision the Nizhny Novgorod Transport Prosecutor’s Office has pointed out that there were no grounds envisaged in the Administrative Code for taking A.I.Ryzhov to the police station. The police did not prepare either an arrest record, or administrative offense record.

Besides, the PO has established that Ryzhov’s search was carried out in breach of law. There had been no order to take operational investigative steps, therefore, such activities could not be performed under that crime report.  

The Prosecutor’s Office has also held that in breach of the Police Act containing an exhaustive list of items that can be seized in course of a search, Ryzhov’s withdrawn belongings were not on the list, and hence, seizure of the laptop, memory cards and USB devices was unlawful.

Therefore, the Prosecutor’s Office has found both human rights defender’s detention and search and seizure of his belongings unlawful. Basing on such conclusions, the Prosecutor’s Office has ordered the head of the Transport Directorate under the Interior Ministry to eliminate the violations.  

Nevertheless, the Committee Against Torture considers this decision halfway and legally incoherent.  “We are glad, – says Anton Ryzhov to the CAT press-service, – that the prosecutor’s office has promptly responded to the violations committed by law enforcers who were too eager to pick up my trail after an anonym call. However, the conclusions contained in the decision are not quite coherent.  Thus, for instance, the prosecutor’s office has not had the courage to admit that my rights to the secrecy of correspondence and private life were violated as a result of laptop seizure. According to the prosecutor’s office, it is not possible to determine whether or not such violation has taken place, since the computer is presently being examined by the Nizhny Novgorod Regional Interior Ministry.  Besides, the Prosecutor’s Office has interpreted restriction of my liberty as an unregistered administrative arrest (taking to a police station for identification purposes). It claims that I was not detained in the context of a criminal procedure.  The police simply took me to the station and merely forgot to create a record.  Meanwhile, it is evident that justifications used by the police to restrict my liberty (“does not look like the man in his passport photo”, “we need to check whether he is registered in our databases”, etc.) are just pretexts, and the real objective was to withdraw information storage devices. Thus, we are dealing with unlawful detention for an unlawful purpose.”

The CAT also emphasizes the fact that the prosecutor’s office has ignored Ryzhov’s allegations that his picture was taken against his will. The Prosecutor’s office has believed law enforcers’ statements that only pictures of seized items were taken. 

Apart from that, the Prosecutor’s Office has sided with the police regarding interpretation of the Police Act, according to which a detainee has the right to a phone call within the shortest possible period following his detention and not later than 3 hours after that. The prosecutorial check has disclosed that the police did not violate the given period, and Ryzhov was allowed to make a call after the search record was prepared.  Thus, the Prosecutor’s Office has ignored the fact that Ryzhov was prevented from making phone-calls, including by means of force, and was not allowed to answer his relatives’ and colleagues’ calls.  The prosecutorial check also has overlooked the clear wording of the law – “within the shortest possible period”.

“This decision is very illustrative of the prosecutorial legal consciousness, – says CAT Chairman Igor Kalyapin. – It is based on the presumption of guilt of the citizen and presumption of innocence of the police. Of course, they could not have avoided acknowledging the most blatant violations, and, thank goodness, they have admitted them. But in cases where the law envisages at least the slightest margin of appreciation, the facts have been interpreted in favour of the perpetrators and to the prejudice of their victim.  The prosecutor a priory does not believe Ryzhov, who, by the by, teaches law at a state university, although no one has doubted that he is a law-abiding citizen.  At the same time, fake excuses of operative investigators found in breach of law are accepted at their face-value.”

This week the Kanavinsky district court has commenced proceedings under Ryzhov’s claim about unlawful actions of the transport police. Next hearing is scheduled for March 5, 2012.