Unprecedented Cynicism in the Razvozzhaev Case
On 18 January Russia’s Investigation Commission informed of a new charge against Leonid Razvozzhaev, the leftwing activist abducted from Ukraine in October while applying for asylum and forcibly returned to Moscow.
The new charge is quite incredible and, if not revoked, will create a truly dangerous precedent. Razvozzaev has been charged under Article 306 § 2 of the RF Criminal Code – knowingly false allegations (literally, denunciation). The Commission’s Central Investigation Department has supposedly checked out Razvozzaev’s allegation that he was tortured by an investigator from the same Commission during the period from 19 to 21 October 2012. His allegations were not found justified, and therefore Ravozzhaev was warned of criminal liability if he continued to make them. Since he remains adamant that he was subjected to torture and pressure, he now faces a new – fourth – charge of making knowingly false claims which, were he to be convicted, would carry a sentence of up to 3 years imprisonment. The other charges are of organizing mass riots with this charge based on allegations made in an anti-opposition “documentary” on the pro-Kremlin NTV channel; of involvement in a robbery back in 1996; and of illegally crossing the Russian border.
Claiming that a person has, for example, raped you, or committed some other crime is, if false, a serious offence.
The present situation is frighteningly far from such cases. Leonid Razvozzhaev appeared at the Basmanny Court in Moscow two days after being abducted from Kyiv. The investigators claimed that he “had handed himself in” and had written a “confession”.
The idea that he had handed himself in did not gel with the circumstances of his return to Moscow, nor with the fact that he was applying for asylum when abducted. After the court hearing which remanded him in custody for 2 months, Razvozzhaev managed to shout that he had been tortured, then later he informed human rights workers visiting him that he had been placed under great physical and psychological pressure. He has formally retracted the confession.
Why would he retract his confession if it was not made under duress? This is just one of the questions which spring to mind over the latest twist in this tale. Others must concern the nature of the check carried out. The Investigation Commission’s investigators have studied allegations made against an investigator from the same Commission. The prohibition of torture enshrined in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as other international documents which the Russian Federation is a party to, entails the obligation to subject all such allegations to thorough and independent examination. It seems extremely unlikely that the European Court of Human Rights would find such an internal investigation adequate in any circumstances. In this case there are, furthermore, some very specific features including Razvozzhaev’s abduction and disappearance for two days, and the lack of a lawyer in court on 19 October.
Whether or not Russia is in breach of the Convention for bringing criminal charges against a person for alleging torture remains to be seen, however the obvious ramification of such a move make one shudder. Most investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment in Ukraine typically find no wrongdoing. Those which then get to the European Court of Human Rights fare considerably less well under the Court’s scrutiny.
Not all cases get to Strasbourg, and if the likely outcome of retracting a confession on the grounds that it was given under duress is a further charge of making false allegations, many people will be simply too frightened to open their mouth.
The case of Leonid Razvozzhaev already bears all the hallmarks of a prosecution aimed at silencing the opposition. It has, regrettably, brought another bitter lesson – that the Ukrainian authorities cannot be relied on to protect asylum seekers from refoulement. The impunity the new charge would bring to those using unlawful violence and pressure to extract confessions would serve as yet another, quite possibly fatal blow to rule of law in Russia.
In the light of the suicide of Alexander Dolmatov in a Rotterdam detention centre on 17 January and the fact that his application for asylum had been rejected, it would be well for EU countries to give the closest scrutiny to this new development in an already profoundly flawed case.
More details about the prsosecution and about Ukraine’s role in this matter can be found in Razvozzhaev Case: No Pretence of Rule of Law and the other links below.