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Russian court upholds arrest of human rights activist

Information and an urgent action from Amnesty International over the trumped up charges against a human rights defender involved in protecting prisoners’ rights
On 3 June the Sverdlovsk Regional Court upheld the district court’s ruling to arrest human rights defender Alexei Sokolov, detained on 13 May on suspicion of robbery. He is supposedly suspected of involvement in an attack in 2004 on the industrial base “UralTermoSvar” during which welding equipment and a cable were stolen. Five years on, two prisoners serving sentences for other crimes “confessed” to this one and named Alexei Sokolov as accomplice.
Alexei Sokolov is represented by four defenders, including prominent Moscow lawyer and member of the Public Chamber Commission on Public Control over the Activities of the Law Enforcement Agencies and Reform of the Judicial System, Genry Reznyk. Mr Reznyk specially flew to Yekaterinburg and is defending Alexei according to a contract drawn up for the fee of one rouble!
Genry Reznyk told Radio Svoboda:
“I have the strong feeling that we are dealing with a case which has been commissioned. This is reprisal against a person who for some reason suddenly felt that in our country you could, with impunity, poke your nose into the matters of the enforcement agencies and place them under supervision.”
The lawyer considers the order for Sokolov’s arrest to be unlawful. He regrets that the court is basically working together with the criminal investigation bodies.
Alexei Sokolov, who is being held in a SIZO [pre-trial detention centre], was not at the hearing, and there was no video transmission from the SIZO. In fact nobody from the prosecutor’s office was there either.
Alexei is the Head of the civic organizations “Legal Basis” [Pravovaya Osnova] which campaigns on torture and other ill-treatment of people held in Russia’s prisons and detention centres. He was appointed by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation to a civic supervisory committee for ensuring human rights in places of confinement.
Below is the Amnesty International Urgent Action. It has not been updated yet, but as this new development shows, it is more than needed.
PUBLIC AI Index: EUR 46/011/2009
18 May 2009
UA 128/09 Torture/unfair trial
RUSSIAN FEDERATION Aleksei Sokolov (m), human rights defender

Human rights defender Aleksei Sokolov was detained on 13 May, and is in danger of torture and other ill-treatment.
He is the head of the organization Pravovaia Osnova (Legal Basis), which campaigns on torture and other ill-treatment of people held in Russia’s prisons and detention centres. He was detained on the street outside his apartment, in the city of Yekaterinburg: he had his two-year-old daughter with him at the time. The police, who were in plain clothes, took her from him, put her down and rang the doorbell of his apartment. They told his wife when she answered the intercom to pick up the child. When she came running to the door, she found the girl outside: the police had already pushed Aleksei Sokolov into their car and were about to drive away.
The police had detained him on suspicion that he had taken part in a 2004 robbery. The investigation into this robbery had been closed several times because of failure to identify a suspect. On 23 April 2009 the investigation was reopened yet again: according to police, one suspect, already in prison for another crime, had confessed to committing the robbery together with Aleksei Sokolov.
Aleksei Sokolov told his lawyer that police had threatened him while he was in custody that they "could not beat him but would know how to torture him," and said, "You thought you could control us, nobody can control the police. You’ve got what you deserved as a human rights defender." His lawyer told Amnesty International that the police had used handcuffs to inflict pain on Aleksei Sokolov and that he saw marks from the handcuffs on Aleksei Sokolov’s wrists.
As a suspect in a crime, Aleksei Sokolv may be detained without charge for up to 10 days. A judge ruled that he was such a suspect on 14 May, saying that as a member of the public commission for the control of places of detention, Aleksei Sokolov might use his position, which enables him to visit detainees, to influence those detainees, including the other suspect in the robbery, during the investigation of the case. He could, for instance, persuade the other suspect to withdraw his statement implicating Aleksei Sokolov.
Aleksei Sokolov expressed concern that the police might try to pressure him into making a "confession." He has worked on many cases of detainees who have been tortured or otherwise ill-treated to make them confess, and believes the police might do the same to him.
Amnesty International has known Aleksei Sokolov for several years and has campaigned jointly with him against human rights violations.
Aleksei Sokolov has taken up numerous cases of torture and other ill-treatment in detention, of police violence and death in custody. In 2006 he distributed a film about torture and other ill-treatment in prison colony IK-2 in Yekaterinburg. Part of the prison colony had been used as a temporary holding centre for people under arrest, in which, according to the film, people were tortured. The film received wide coverage, both in Russia and internationally, and led to the closure of the temporary holding centre. The work of Legal Basis brought about several investigations into police and prison colony staff, accused of crimes including the use of torture to force suspects to confess.
Aleksei Sokolov has been attacked and harassed before now. On 2 August 2006, police searched his apartment, claiming that stolen goods were kept there. However, they confiscated material relating to cases Aleksei Sokolov was preparing for the European Court of Human Rights, correspondence with prisoners, copies of documents regarding investigations into allegations of human rights violations as well as a TV, computer and children’s toys.
On 10 June 2008, he had eggs thrown at him, when he and two other human rights defenders, Lev Ponomarev and Ludmila Alekseeva, gave a press conference about death of detainees in a prison colony on 31 May. In January 2009 several prison service officials were charged with exceeding official authority in regard to this case.
Aleksei Sokolov’s wife told Amnesty International that her husband has been threatened on many occasions and was warned not to continue his work.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in Russian, English or your own language:
- calling on the authorities to ensure that Aleksei Sokolov is not tortured or otherwise ill-treated;
- urging them to release him immediately unless he is promptly charged with a recognisably criminal offence, and given a prompt and fair trial;
- urging them to demonstrate respect for the lawful work of human rights defenders, and to ensure they are free to pursue their lawful activities without fear of repercussions.
Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation
Yurii Ya. Chaika
Ul Bolshaia Dmitrovka 15a
Moscow GSP-3
125993, Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 692 17 25
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor General
Prosecutor of the Sverdlovsk Region
Yurii A. Ponomarev
Ul. Moskovskaia 21
GSP 1036
Sverdlovsk Region
620219, Russian Federation
Fax: +7 343 377 02 41
Salutation: Dear Prosecutor
Department for Internal Affairs Yekaterinburg
Colonel Marat Kh. Bisinbaev
ul. Frunze 74
620144, Russian Federation
Salutation: Dear Colonel
Ombudsperson for the Russian Federation
Vladimir P. Lukin
ul. Miasnitskaia 47
107048, Russian Federation
Fax: +7 495 607 74 70
Salutation: Dear Mr. Lukin
COPIES TO:diplomatic representatives of the Russian Federation accredited to your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY.Check with the International Secretariat, or your section office, if sending appeals after 29 June 2009.
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