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19.07.2007

ECHR finds against Russia over Mikhail Trepashkin’s detention conditions

   

The European Court of Human Rights has just announced its Chamber Judgment in the case of Trepashkin v. Russia (application no. 36898/03).

Mikhail Trepashkin is still being held in conditions which are a danger to his life and are in breach of Russian legislation, not to mention a number of international agreements to which the Russian Federation is a party.

Both Russian and international human rights organizations have repeatedly stated that Mikhail Trepashkin is a political prisoner and must be released. 

Given the importance of this ruling, and the imperative need to ensure Trepashkin’s release, we pass on the crucial parts of today’s judgment. The full text is available at: http://cmiskp.echr.coe.int/tkp197/portal.asp?sessionId=1438030&skin=hudoc-pr-en&action=request

CHAMBER JUDGMENT: TREPASHKIN v. RUSSIA

The Court held unanimously that there had been a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of degrading treatment) of the European Convention on Human Rights concerning the applicant’s detention conditions between 22 October and 1 December 2003.

Under Article 41 (just satisfaction) of the Convention, the Court awarded the applicant 3,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage. (The judgment is available only in English.)

1. Principal facts

The applicant, Mikhail Ivanovich Trepashkin, is a Russian national who was born 1957 and lives in Moscow. He is a lawyer and a former officer of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). He suffered from bronchial asthma at the time of his arrest.

On 22 October 2003 the applicant’s car was stopped by traffic police, who searched his car and found nothing suspicious. A few minutes later the policemen repeated the search in the presence of two witnesses and allegedly discovered a handgun and ammunition on the back seat of the car. The applicant stated that the gun did not belong to him. A criminal investigation was opened and the applicant was placed in Dmitrov Detention Centre. The parties submitted differing accounts of the detention conditions.

The applicant claimed, among other things, that he was held in an insect-ridden cell, without heating or natural light and that he had to wash using the lavatory. The Government claimed that the applicant’s cell measured 6.6m²,that it was equipped with a lavatory, a tap and a sink and centrally heated. Inspectors visiting the Dmitrov Detention Centre had found the conditions in the cells to be “satisfactory” and the applicant had not been taken outside for a walk because the yard in the detention centre was under construction.

Despite a court ruling that the applicant be released, he remained in detention.

On 4 November 2003 he was transferred to Volokolamsk Detention Centre. The parties submitted different accounts of the detention conditions.

According to the Government, the applicant was placed in a 20m² cell equipped with a lavatory, a shelf for storing foodstuffs, and a sink with hot and cold running water with 14 to 20 other inmates. An inspection found sanitary conditions to be “in accordance with established standards”. Each detainee had an individual bed, the plumbing and water supply systems were operational and no vermin had been detected.

The applicant claimed that he had had to share a 16-18m² cell with 22 to 25 other people, including one person with schizophrenia. People had had to share beds, the cell was infested with bugs, lice and cockroaches and other inmates smoked. The “lavatory” was a hole in the floor of the cell, which was not separated from the living space. A number of the applicant’s cellmates confirmed his claims.

On 5 November 2003 Dmitrov Town Court ordered the applicant’s continued detention and he was transferred back to the detention centre in Dmitrov.

On 1 December 2003 the applicant was transferred to a detention centre in Moscow. On the same day the Moscow Circuit Military Court ordered the applicant’s pre-trial detention in the context of an earlier criminal case. He was later convicted and sentenced to four years’ imprisonment.

On 15 April 2005 Dmitrov Town Court found the applicant guilty of unlawful possession of firearms, found in his car on 22 October 2003. The applicant appealed and, on 1 July 2005, Moscow Regional Court acquitted him, finding no evidence that the applicant had been in possession of the gun before his arrest or that he had put it in his car. 

On an unspecified date the applicant brought successful proceedings concerning his unlawful detention between 22 October and 5 November 2003 and was ultimately awarded RUR 30,000 in compensation for non-pecuniary damage.

 

3. Summary of the judgment2

Complaints

The applicant complained that his pre-trial detention was in breach of Article 5 (right to liberty and security) and that the conditions of his detention had been inhuman and degrading, relying on Article 3.

Decision of the Court

Article 3

The Court accepted that, while in detention, the applicant suffered from bronchial asthma of medium gravity (as stated in his medical records prior to his arrest).

The Court noted that the applicant spent 25 days in a 6.6m² cell at the detention centre in Dmitrov at a time when the “walking yard” was being renovated, such that the applicant had had had no outdoor walks. The Court was also prepared to accept that the lighting of the cell was insufficient.

In Volokolamsk Detention Centre, according to the Government, detainees in the applicant’s cell had as little as one to 1.43m² of personal space. The Government also admitted, at least implicitly, that the detainees had eaten, kept foodstuffs and personal belongings, washed themselves and used the toilet in the same cell where they were living. In addition, the Government did not deny that some of the applicant’s fellow detainees had smoked heavily in the cell.

The Court concluded that, in Dmitrov Detention Centre, the applicant was kept in a poorly lit 6.6m² cell without access to outside walks or physical exercise for 25 days. Furthermore, for 14 days, he was detained in a seriously overcrowded cell at the Volokolamsk Detention Centre, sometimes having as little as one square metre of personal space, lacking even basic privacy. The claim that the conditions were considered “satisfactory”, only indicated that standards at national level were quite low at the time. Moreover, the applicant suffered from bronchial asthma, which would certainly have intensified the negative effects of the overcrowding and the absence of outdoor exercise. The fact that the applicant’s detention was unlawful only exacerbated his mental anguish. Taking into account the cumulative effect of those factors, the Court concluded that the conditions of the applicant’s detention between 22 October and 1 December 2003 amounted to degrading treatment in violation of Article 3.

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