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European rights court condemns Russia over treatment of Pussy Riot

The court also condemned the country over its investigation into murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights has condemned Russia in two separate judgements over its investigation into murdered journalist Anna Politkovskaya and its treatment of the protest group Pussy Riot.

In the case of Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building in 2006, the court ruled that Russia “had failed to take adequate investigatory steps to find the person or persons who had commissioned the murder”.

The judges at the court in Strasbourg found that Russian investigators should have explored possibilities that the crime was ordered by “agents from Russia’s FSB domestic secret service or of the administration of the Chechen Republic”.

Politkovskaya, a reporter for the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin and his role in the war-torn republic of Chechnya.

She was 48 when she was killed – on Putin’s birthday – and her death sparked an international outcry.

Four men, including an FSB officer, were originally tried over her killing but acquitted in 2009.

After further investigations, three of the same men – two brothers and a police officer, but not the FSB officer – were tried again along with two additional suspects.

In 2014 they were sentenced to prison, with Rustam Makhmudov, who fired the fatal shots, and his uncle Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, identified as the organiser of the murder, now serving life terms.

“However, an investigation into such a killing could not be considered adequate if no efforts had been made to identify the person who had commissioned the crime and paid for it,” the court said in its ruling.

It also criticised prosecutors for saying the inquiry continues, “without giving convincing reasons why it had lasted so long”.

The case was filed at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) by Politkovskaya’s family, which has long claimed justice has not been done in the case.

The court ordered Russia to pay a total of €20,000 to the four family members – Politkovskaya’s mother, sister and two children.

The ECHR covers allegations of rights abuses by any of the 47 governments signed up to the European Convention on Human Rights.

Russia, which ratified the convention in 1998, is obliged to implement the court’s judgements.

‘Humiliation’

A separate case involved three members of Pussy Riot, the feminist punk group which made headlines worldwide in 2012 when the women were arrested for performing a protest song in a Moscow church titled Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away.

They were held in pre-trial detention for five months on the basis of what the court called “stereotyped reasons” before being convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” at a widely followed trial that drew protests from rights groups.

The court concluded that Russia had violated their human rights by subjecting them to “humiliating and intimidating” treatment, not providing a fair trial and not allowing them freedom of expression.

In particular, the seven judges hearing the case said the three women had been subjected to “overcrowded conditions” during their trial, often being transported to and from the courtroom in compartments measuring as small as 0.37 square metres.

Their access to legal counsel was also unfairly curtailed, since while being kept in a glass dock surrounded by police – itself a “humiliation”, the court found – they could speak with lawyers only through “a small window one metre off the ground”.

The court said a defendant’s right to speak with lawyers without being overheard is “one of the basic requirements of a fair trial in a democratic society”.

It also deemed their prison sentences had been “exceptionally severe”.

Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina were released after serving one year and nine months of their two-year sentences.

The other convicted member, Yekaterina Samutsevich, was detained pre-trial for seven months but was released afterwards with a suspended sentence.

The European court ordered Russia to pay damages of €16,000 each to Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina, and €5,000 to Samutsevich, as well as €11,760 for their legal expenses.

Pussy Riot activists have continued to stage protests since, most recently at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday, when four members invaded the pitch dressed in police uniforms.

On Monday, they were sentenced to 15 days in jail.

© – AFP 2018

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