Razvozzhaev case: Answers urgently requred
Strasbourg, it seems, would also like answers regarding the abduction in Kyiv, forced return to Russia, likely torture and prosecution of Russian activist and asylum seeker Leonid Razvozzhaev. One of his lawyers, Anna Stavitskaya has reported that the European Court of Human Rights has not only accepted the case but has decided to apply Rule No. 40 (Urgent notification of an application, i.e. without the customary long wait in the queue of applications). Since Leonid Razvozzhaev is now in a Moscow SIZO [remand prison] and there is suggestion that his case may be heard in Siberia which is conveniently off the journalist beaten track, the urgency is acute. The number of unanswered questions is increasing by the day, as is also the stream of contradictory remarks from the Ukrainian and Russian authorities.
The worth of the Russian investigators’ claim that Razvozzhaev had “handed himself in” and of the “confession” extracted from the Left Front political activist are abundantly clear. Razvozzhaev has since retracted the confession and said that he was placed under severe physical and psychological pressure, which included threats against his wife and children.
It is possible that the investigators have become worried by international attention to the abduction, as well as to the political flavour of the charges. Razvozzhaev is accused of organizing a mass riot with the whole case prompted by a rather scurrilous anti-opposition programme on the pro-Kremlin NTV and inspiring no more confidence than the “confession”.
There is, unfortunately, another likely motive for adding a new charge The prosecution has resurrected a criminal case from 15 years ago with Razvozzhaev accused of having, on 4 December 1997, taken part in an armed attack on a Siberian fur dealer and theft of 500 fur hats and video camera. The investigators were undaunted by the 15 year time period and lack of hard evidence but were in a hurry since on 4 December 2012 this case was to be officially time-barred. As well as a less nebulous charge (500 hats, after all!), combining the different charges means that the case could be heard in Siberia, considerably diminishing media scrutiny. That, they may hope, will deflect hard-hitting questions as to why a 15-year-old case has now been dredged up, a month and a half after Razvozzhaev was abducted and forcibly returned to Moscow where he was remanded in custody over entirely different charges.
These are, as already reported, only the latest questions in this squalid example of Ukrainian and Russian contempt for international law.
Leonid Razvozzhaev was abducted in the middle of the day on 17 October as he went out for a break from the Kyiv office of a UNHCR partner where he was completing his asylum application. His cries for help were heard from the office, and he was seen being forced into a car with Ukrainian number plates. He was then taken across the border into Russia, where on 19 October a Moscow court remanded him in custody for 2 months. There had been no extradition request and Razvozzaev was in Ukraine legally. He was also, effectively, an asylum seeker and therefore under international protection.
The Ukrainian and Russian authorities have not coordinated their stories, with different bodies issuing mutually exclusive statements. The Russian Investigation Committee claimed last week that Razvozzhaev had not crossed the border legally, since he had supposedly used his brother’s passport. The Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office, however, in response to a formal information request, notified on 9 November that L.N. Razvozzhaev crossed the border from a crossing in the Kharkiv region.
Some of the astoundingly inadequate responses can be found in “No Offence?” and the links below. There has been no official protest from Ukraine and the Interior Ministry’s statement, and refusal to initiate a criminal investigation over Razvozzhaev’s abduction, make it difficult to believe that the Ukrainian authorities did not, at very least, know what was happening.
If the response to questions from the European Court of Human Rights is as inadequate, the Ukrainian government will receive the assessment it deserves over the second grave infringement of Ukraine’s international commitments with respect to asylum seekers in 2012.