European Court Of Human Rights Rules In Favour Of Navalny And Ofitserov Over Kirovles Conviction

February 23, 2016
Alexey Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov at their sentencing in 2012.

LIVE UPDATES: The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the 2013 conviction of Alexey Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov constituted a violation of their rights to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Welcome to our column, Russia Update, where we will be closely following day-to-day developments in Russia, including the Russian government’s foreign and domestic policies.

The previous issue is here.

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Fatherland Defender Day – and Chechen Deportation – Marked in Russia with Stalin Bust, Threat to Opposition

Although overshadowed by his grandstanding around the report on him released today by the opposition, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov did make a statement noting the 72nd anniversary of the deportation of the Chechen and Ingush peoples. Commemoration of the deportation, known as the Aardakh or Exodus, is forbidden in Chechnya because it would counter Kadyrov’s strenuous efforts to accentuate the positive about Russian history, as Paul Goble wrote today on Windows on Eurasia.
But he himself did post some images and write today about the deportation on his Instagram page (translation by The Interpreter):

72 years ago, Joseph Stalin deported the Chechen and Ingush peoples. The operation was led by Lavrenty Beriya. Let them be cursed throughout all the ages! Millions of soldiers and officers were perishing on the fronts of of the Great Fatherland War (WWII), but Stalin threw 120,000 troops at the persecution of the Chechen people. About 800 residents of Chechnya were shot to death. The losses of people exceeded 54% of its population.

2016-02-23 20:55:59

But he also found time to post a picture of Putin making a classic gesture to signify “execution” and posted a quote by Putin, “As for the traitors of the Motherland, they will kick the bucket. I assure you.”

2016-02-23 20:57:01

In Pskov Region, the memories of Stalin’s crimes against humanity were apparently not so fresh. A bust of Stalin was placed in honor of Fatherland Defender Day, also marked February 23, at the Military History Museum and Preserve, reported, citing FlashNord.

The director of the museum said that the line of defense in the village of Kholmatka was called “the Stalin line” so the bust was put out.

A strange incident occurred with the Lego company’s effort to commemorate Fatherland Defender’s Day in Moscow. A picture of a scene made out of Lego blocks depicting a man in a white shirt standing in front of tanks was posted on Twitter — as if the PR managers didn’t realize this was in fact a scene from the democracy demonstrators in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989. The picture was pulled, but not before Internet watchers grabbed it.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick
3 People Convicted of Espionage in Estonia
Three people of Russian heritage, two with Estonian citizenship have been convicted of collaborating with Russian intelligence, Interfax reported, citing Estonia’s prosecutor general.
Maksim Gruzdyev, 32, a citizen of Estonia, was sentenced to four years of prison. He was recruited in 2013 in Pskov Region and was transmitting to Russian intelligence information about the work of KAPO, the Estonian police, until his arrest in October 2015.
Aleksandr Rudnyev, a citizen of Estonia, 21, was convicted of espionage in October 2015 and sentenced to 2 years of prison.
He was also recruited in Pskov Region for sending information about the activity of Estonia’s defense forces and the location of border posts and service centers.

Finally in October 2015, Pavel Romanov, 42, who does not have citizenship was sentenced to 4 years and 10 months of prison for collaborating with Russian intelligence in Pskov Region until his arrest in February 2015, by transmitting information about Estonia’s defense capability and the defense of its borders as well as the job descriptions of of employees of justice institutions.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick 

Russian Performance Artist Pavlensky Moved from Serbsky Institute to Butyrka Prison
Pavel Pavlensky, a performance artist working in the aktsionisttradition arrested for setting on fire the doors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) on Lubyanka Square, has been transferred from the Serbsky Institute for Forensice Psychiatry to pre-trial detention at Butyrka Prison, Novaya Gazeta reported, citing his wife Oksana Shalygina.
“They evidently decided not to push the pathology,” she said on her Facebook page, meaning authorities evidently decided that declaring him “unfit to stand trial by virtue of insanity” would not fly.

“But it’s better not to relax, anything can be expected,” she cautioned.

Pavlensky told her that he was “flattered when the judge repeats from time to time that his action was made out of ideological hatred.” That’s the attitude “any decent person” should have to the FSB, he said.
He said that while doctors tried to isolate him while he was in Serbsky, the other patients “broke the blockade,” and smuggled information about his situation out via their relatives. He was denied visitors while there.
Earlier Moscow City Court had rejected Pavlensky’s lawyer’s appeal to release him pending trial, opting to extend his arrest until March 5, and sent him to the Serbsky Institute for Forensic Psychiatry for examination. 
No visits with his lawyer were allowed.
Russia’s top art prize, the state-sponsored Innovation Award, was canceled by the organizers after Pavlensky was nominated, Artnet News reported.
Pavlensky had been nominated in the “visual art” category for his performance “Threat: Lubyanka’s Burning Door” which is how he styled the action that led to charges of vandalism, aggravated by “ideological hatred.”
Mikhail Mindlin, director of the state-run National Center for Contemporary Arts said in a statement that the nomination was rejected because it involved breaking the law and damaging property.
Given that the Ministry of Culture supported the prize, he deemed the nomination “impermissible.”
Among eight curators and critics who withdrew from the prize selection committee was Dmitry Ozverkov, head of the contemporary art department of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

Kadyrov Publishes Opposition Report in Attempt to Pre-Empt Press Conference; Yashin Shrugs, Deflects Hecklers
Ilya Yashin planned to issue a report today, A Threat to National Security, about the alarming phenomenon of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, but because an embargoed copy was accidentally uploaded early by Open Russia, Kadyrov was able to pre-empt Yashin’s press conference and disseminated the report himself. As Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram page (translation by The Interpreter):

The Parnas party representatives have written a lot about a certain report, A Threat to National Security. They announced it like some sensational material. Today the authors plan to present journalists in Moscow with this material in the form of a sensation. And we’re publishing it, so that anyone who likes can familiarize themselves with it without waiting for the press conference. You can read it on my pages in VKontakte, Facebook and LiveJournal. I express my attitude to that theater of one actor by replicating this work. I don’t know what jabber-ology will still be coming, but what is written doesn’t contain anything but jabber ))). LiveJournal Facebook

For his part, Yashin phlegmatically wrote on his Facebook, “Good job, Ramzan.” He explained that his colleagues at Open Russia had accidentally released the report early and this was “unpleasant, of course,” but for this he could only thank Kadyrov:

“I understand perfectly how to get the report to residents of central Russia, the Urals and Siberia, and the Far East. But distributing the report in Chechnya turned out to be a difficult task. However, Kadyrov has seriously helped me with this.

After the head of Chechnya has published the report, there is no doubt that it will be read in the republic. This bravado will serve us well. I welcome such a ‘clever move’ by the Kadyrovites and welcome it.”

While Kadyrov said he didn’t see anything “sensational” in the report, Yashin said it was true: “there are no sensations.” Chechnya is deeply corrupt and the funds gathered for Kadyrov’s foundation are his “personal wallet.” 
“Kadyrovs fighters kill people — what sensations are there here? These are commonly known facts,” said Yashin.

At a press conference that was repeatedly interrupted by a bomb threat, police with bullhorns, and hecklers, liberal opposition politician Ilya Yashin has presented a report condemning Chechen Republic leader Ramzan Kadyrov and calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to dismiss him.

When security officials informed Yashin during his presentation that police were calling for the building to be evacuated because of a bomb threat, Yashin merely held up a copy of his report before scores of cameras and said, “This is the only bomb here.”

“My report’s key purpose is to attract Russian public attention to the ongoing situation and to demand Ramzan Kadyrov’s immediate resignation as leader of Chechnya,” Yashin said.

“Vladimir Putin has set a time bomb in the North Caucasus that can detonate and turn into a third Chechnya war as a result of any serious political crisis. To make sure this doesn’t happen — and I am certain that the situation has not yet become irreversible — this Russian national security threat needs to be thwarted.”

During the press conference, Yashin was heckled repeatedly, including by a man who threw dollars at him to imply he was paid by the US government. When another man approached him, security officials “wrestled him to the ground” and then “frog-marched him from the room,” RFE/RL reported.
When the police officer entered the room and ordered everyone to leave because of the telephoned bomb threat, Yashin continued the press conference and the officer left. Yesterday police had also reported a bomb threat and searched the premises and found nothing.
The provocations were caught on video:

The full text of the 65-page report can be found here; an English-language translation is being prepared by 4FreeRussia Foundation and will be released soon.

Yesterday, New Times published a chapter, which we excerpted.

The report deals not only with Kadyrov’s lavish lifestyle, some of which can be glimpsed in his own Instagram photos, but describes his “personal army” of 30,000 men nominally members of the Interior Ministry’s police and Internal Troops. The report provides evidence of the Kadyrovtsy, as Kadyrov’s soldiers are known, fighting in eastern Ukraine, which we had previously documented in our own report

The report closes with 20 unanswered questions addressed to Kadyrov; he declined a request for an interview.

The questions range from a demand for details about how Kadyrov cooperated with terrorists such as Shamil Basayev at one time and an explanation for how the troops under his control were able to murder his father, Akhmat; to queries about why his “personal army” does not swear allegiance to the Russian state and why he is violating Russian law with his “shoot to kill” orders against police from any other region of Russia interfering in Chechnya.

Yashin asks how Kadyrov’s own cult of personality squares with Islam’s prohibition on glorifying one person, and asks if he doesn’t see “his own responsibility” behind the fact that hundreds of young Chechens are fighting alongside ISIS. He asks: “Does your policy of the opposition of Islam to Russian laws in Chechnya create the ideological base for recruiting for ISIS?” he asks.

Yashin also asks if Kadyrov is behind the murder of Umar Israilov in Vienna; the kidnapping and murder of Isa Yamnadayev; and finally the assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, Yashin’s close colleague and friend.

“How can you explain the involvement of your officers in the murder” of Nemtsov, asks Yashin, as Ruslan Geremeyev, deputy head of the Sever Battalion who escaped from Russia is believed to have given orders to another Sever officer, Zaur Dadayev and four other Chechen suspects currently held.

— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick

European Court Of Human Rights Rules In Favour Of Navalny And Ofitserov Over Kirovles Conviction

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled in favour of Alexey Navalny and Pyotr Ofitserov that their 2013 conviction in the Kirovles case was in violation of two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.

According to the ruling, Navalny and Ofitserov were denied the right to a fair trial and received extra-judicial punishments.

In 2013, Navalny was sentenced to five years, and Ofitserov to four. Both sentences were subsequently suspended and the two placed on probation. Navalny was barred from running from election for five years.


Pyotr Ofitserov at his sentencing in 2013.

Navalny had acted as a consultant to the Kirovles timber company, which was owned by the Kirov regional administration. In order to address the company’s financial problems, Navalny suggested that Kirovles partner with a timber trading company rather than engage in direct sales.

Ofitserov was invited by Navalny to compete for the contract with Kirovles and won it for his VLK trading firm. According to the governor of the Kirov region, the decision to award the contract to VLK was made without any pressure from Navalny. The deal was eventually terminated in 2009 by the governor as Kirovles continued to make losses and was restructured after an audit. Trade with VLK accounted for only 2% of the total volume of Kirovles’ sales.

The director of Kirovles, who was dismissed shortly before the termination of the contract for mismanagement, claimed however that Navalny had pressured him into agreeing to the contract with Ofitserov and that the contract had been disadvantageous to the firm.

The Kirov regional prosecutor’s office, and subsequently the Investigative Committee of Russia (SledKom) opened and closed several rounds of inquiries against Navalny and Ofitserov, abandoning the investigations due to lack of evidence. Meanwhile the investigation into the director of Kirovles continued.

Indeed investigators had been told by witnesses from the Kirov Regional Forestry Department that Navalny had in fact insisted on an independent audit of Kirovles and restructuring so as to prevent financial manipulation by the director.

On July 5, 2012 Aleksandr Bastrykin, the head of SledKom publicly excoriated his officers for having dropped an 11-month investigation into Navalny and Ofitserov, ordering the case to be reopened.

Bastrykin’s comments, at a general meeting of the Committee, were broadcast on state television:

“You have got a man there called Mr Navalny. The criminal case, why have you terminated it without asking the Investigative Committee superiors? Today the whole country is discussing [this fraud], the talks [between Mr Navalnyy and Mr Belykh] have been published, and we cannot hear anything except grunting. You had a criminal file against this man, and you have quietly closed it. I am warning you, there will be no mercy, no forgiveness if such things happen again. If you have grounds to close it, report it. Feeling weak, afraid, under pressure – report! We will help, support you, take over the file, but quietly, like that – no …” 

This took place as Navalny made repeated public accusations of corruption against Vladimir Putin’s government, including Bastrykin himself.

On July 30, SledKom opened a criminal investigation against the former Kirovles director on suspicion of having conspired with “unknown individuals” to dissipate Kirovles’ assets through VLK. That same day, the case was joined with the reopened case against Navalny and Ofitserov.

What happened next is key to today’s ECHR ruling. 

The former director entered a plea-bargaining deal with the prosecutor’s office in September, 2012, agreeing to provide information to investigators on Navalny and Ofitserov’s involvement in the misappropriation of assets.

The cases against the director and the other two men were subsequently dis-joined, with the first trial accelerated. This meant that at the following criminal trial of Navalny and Ofitserov, the prosecution had already biased the trial by explicitly referring to the two as the director’s “partners in crime” in the previous verdict, but also that the accusations against them were based not on proof to be tested before the court, but a conviction established via a plea bargain. Therefore none of the director’s claims had been put to the test. The court also rejected complaints that other witnesses had changed their statements over the course of the investigation

According to the ECHR this violates Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

ARTICLE 6: Right to a fair trial

1. In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interests of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.

2. Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.

3. Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:

(a) to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;

(b) to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;

(c) to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;

(d) to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;

(e) to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.

The ECHR also found that the conviction of Navalny and Ofitserov for embezzlement had not been applicable to their actions, and that the convicting court had interpreted Russia’s law on embezzlement beyond its bounds. This represented a violation of Article 7 of the Convention:

ARTICLE 7: No punishment without law


No one shall be held guilty of any criminal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a criminal offence under national or international law at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the criminal offence was committed.

2. This Article shall not prejudice the trial and punishment of any person for any act or omission which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognised by civilised nations.

The ECHR ruled that the Russian state must pay both Navalny a total of €56,053 and Ofitserov €30,893 as remuneration for damages and costs.

Navalny wrote on his website today that the ECHR ruling was recognition that Russia’s Supreme Court must now, by law, reverse the verdict of the case, which he says was clearly “totally fabricated.”

The Interpreter translates:

The truth is with is and we will win, since we are doing precisely what they celebrate today – defending the Fatherland from the thieves and villains who have seized power in Russia.

Sooner or later the verdicts on the fabricated Yves Rocher case, by which my brother Oleg was unjustly and rottenly imprisoned, and the Bolotnaya case and all the other political cases will be reversed.

And the time will come when justice can be reached in a Russian court and not only in the ECHR. Our task is hasten this time with our own work.

— Pierre Vaux