6 October 2020
On the day of the funeral of Nizhny Novgorod journalist Irina Slavina, Memorial, Open Russia and Public Verdict demanded a review of the terms of the Criminal Procedure Code
The tragedy of 2 October in Nizhny Novgorod, the self-immolation of Irina Slavina, forces us to take a close look at how searches are carried out – both among civil activists and among people who are remote from politics. Searches have been transformed from a tool for investigating a crime into a method of applying physical and psychological pressure.
The Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) regulates the grounds and procedure for conducting a search, establishing the need for a court permit to conduct a search of a place of residence. However, firstly, the CPC contains loopholes to circumvent this requirement. It is permissible to search a residence without a court order in “exceptional circumstances”, which brook no delay – with subsequent notification of the court. The result: every other search turns out to be “urgently necessary.”
Secondly, judicial oversight in this area (including the need to obtain a court order for a search) is increasingly becoming a fiction: the court does not go into details, automatically “stamping” decisions in favour of the investigator.
Thirdly, investigators often ignore the requirements of the CPC. Lawyers are not allowed into the place as it is being searched. Those being searched do not have their procedural rights explained to them. The attesting witnesses are trainees from the investigating authorities and other persons associated with the investigator.
Fourthly, this is according to the letter of the law but not the spirit. The search itself has become a tool of intimidation. It’s almost a tradition to start early in the morning, sometimes before six. The front door is often removed or hacked through. All computers, telephones and data-containing devices are seized from the subject of the search and their relatives – even if the case under investigation has nothing to do with technology. Money and bank cards can be seized for no reason, leaving people without means of subsistence, or depriving them of long-term savings. Equipment and money are not returned for years, or they completely disappear in the depths of the offices of the investigating authorities. Such a search, in fact, differs little from a robbery. Searches without a lawyer, involving the breaking-down of doors and the removal of equipment are regularly carried out not only at the residences of suspects and those accused of crimes, but also at the homes of witnesses, who are even less protected in procedural terms.
These practices, tried and tested in so-called “political” cases, are increasingly being used in the investigation of “general criminal” cases. Against this background, the statements of the leading officials of the investigative bodies about the groundlessness of the claims of lawyers and human rights activists sound like outright mockery.
We, representatives of civic organizations, demand an end to the use of searches to intimidate citizens. The CPC should be amended to prevent abuse by the investigator. Judicial oversight of the conduct of searches should be transformed from a formality into a working tool. “Deterrent searches” must be stopped, otherwise they will destroy many more lives.
We invite representatives of civil society, the legal community, and lawyers to unite their efforts and work out a raft of requirements for the authorities, the implementation of which would not only be a tribute to the memory of Irina Slavina, but would eliminate the conditions that gave rise to the tragedy in Nizhny Novgorod.
Chair of the board of Memorial Human Rights Centre A. Cherkasov
Director of Public Verdict Foundation N. Taubina
A. Pivovarov, Executive Director of the Open Russia NGO
Translated by Anna Bowles