Kalashnikov beats Russia

Publish date: July 26, 2002

Written by: Jon Gauslaa

Russia looses second case at the European Court of Human Rights as the Court orders the Russian Government to pay 8000 Euros to Valeriy Kalashnikov for having exposed him to inhuman treatment in prison.

The Court held unanimously that Articles 3, 5 (3) and 6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated in the case of Valeriy Kalashnikov, a Russian banker who was held in custody in the city of Magadan for almost five years on embezzlement charges.

Appalling conditions

Mr. Kalashnikov, the then president of the Northeast Commercial Bank, was imprisoned on June 29, 1995 in a detention centre in Magadan in the Russian Far East. On October 20, 1999 he was then sent to serve his five and a half year sentence at a labour camp in the village of Talaya, but on December 9, 1999 he was transferred back to the Magadan detention centre where he stayed until his release on June 26, 2000.

In his application to the European Court in Strasbourg Mr. Kalashnikov claimed that the prohibition of degrading treatment in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights had been violated in his case. The Court agreed as it found Mr. Kalashnikov’s conditions of detention, amounted to degrading treatment.

Although the Russian authorities claimed that the cell in which Kalashnikov was placed together with up to 24 other prisoners measured 20,9 square meters and not 17 square meters as Kalashnikov had claimed, the cell was in the Court’s view still severely overcrowded. Because of this, the its inmates had to sleep in turns based on eight-hour shifts. Constant lighting in the cell further aggravated the sleeping conditions.

Cockroaches and ants

The Court also took into consideration the absence of adequate ventilation in the cell; the infestation of the cell with cockroaches and ants; the filthy, dilapidated state of the cell and lack of real privacy; and, the fact that, throughout his detention, Kalashnikov contracted skin diseases and fungal infections. The Court further noted with grave concern that he was detained on occasions with inmates suffering from syphilis and tuberculosis.

The pleas from the Russian Government that the condition Mr. Kalashnikov had suffered was not worse than the conditions any other Russian prisoner would meet in a detention centre was thus, not heard. Neither the absence of a positive intention to humiliate or debase the applicant could exlude a finding of violation of Article 3.

Reasonable time

The Strasbourg Court also agreed with Mr. Kalashnikov that the length of his pre-trial detention and the criminal proceedings against him violated his rights under Articles 5 (3) and 6 (1) of the European Convention.

Regarding Article 5 (3), the Court pointed out that even strong suspicion of the involvement of a person in serious offences could not alone justify a long period of pre-trial detention. It also noted that the reasons relied on by the authorities to prolong Mr. Kalashnikov’s detention, namely the danger of obstructing the examination of the case, was never substantiated with any concrete factual circumstances.

The Court also found that the total length of the proceedings (five years, one month and 23 days) had extended the reasonable time limit set up in Article 6 (1) of the Convention. It observed that it could take into account also the state of the proceedings existing on the date Russia ratified the Convention (May 5, 1998), and that the authorities had failed in their duty of special diligence, particularly after May 5, 1998.

Pending cases

Both the present decision, and the decision in case Burdov v. Russia from May 7, 2002, which also involved violations of Article 6 (1), will without doubt be read with interests from other Russian applicants who has cases pending before the Strasbourg Court.

The number of such applicants is significant, and includes i.e. environmentalists and former navy captains Aleksandr Nikitin and Grigory Pasko.

Nikitin, who spent almost five years fighting off untenable treason charges before he was finally acquitted on September 13, 2000, has filed an complaint under Articles 6 (reasonable time) and 13 (access to Court). According to recent information from the registrar of the Court, examination of his case will start near the end of this year.

Pasko spent 20 months in custody under conditions similar to those Mr. Kalashnikov faced, and filed an application in January 2001 referring to Article 3 as well as to several other provisions of the Convention. After the Military Section of the Russian Supreme Court recently confirmed his four years treason sentence, his defence-team plans to forward an extended application to the Strasbourg Court.