Igor Kalyapin, chair of the Committee against Torture, member of the Presidential Council on Human Rights, and a Moscow Helsinki Group prize-winning laureate, is convinced that the Network case (concerning an organization banned in Russia) has produced an unprecedented reaction from the public, one which is already forcing individual state officials to respond. And the reason, in his view, is not so much the sentences of six to eighteen years in prison camps for the eight who were convicted as in the torture they suffered.
Igor Aleksandrovich (Kalyapin) , acting as defence counsel for Dmitry Pchelintsev who received an 18-year sentence in the Network case, told M.News that this is a clear indication of how the methods used by the security forces in the Caucasus are becoming the norm in the rest of Russia. Can this really be said?
This is not the first time that torture has been used in a Russian region, where evidence has been produced with the aid of torture, or where torture has been simply applied during the period of detention, and an individual beaten savagely, reduced to a lump of meat. And then very dubious charges are hung on the individual. I can’t say that there are a lot of these cases, but they existed before the Network case. What is unique in this instance is that it has produced such a public outcry.
Does it happen that in such instances the court gives a softer sentence than that requested by the prosecution? In the Network case the judge simply copied the figures out of the prosecutor’s files.
Usually the court gives shorter sentences than those requested by the prosecution, having found some extenuating circumstances which the preliminary investigation did not discover. Here it looks as though the judge was, in effect, settling scores with these individuals on account of the unfriendly public atmosphere that arose around the case. Really, this is the first time that I have seen so many people disturbed by a verdict. And – not so much by the severity of the sentences, but by the use of torture during the preliminary investigation.
The investigative committee checked the statements on torture and stated that they were not substantiated.
Quite true. And the court did not take the matter up.
I quote the judgement: “the statements by the accused regarding the use of prohibited methods of carrying out an investigation are fabricated, used as part of the defence strategy they have adopted. The court considers them to be a conscious attempt to confuse the public by discrediting their own initial statements and giving maximum publicity to a criminal case.” How should we interpret judge Klubkov’s statement?
During the hearing the court is obliged to evaluate the arguments of the accused. From a procedural point of view all was correct. The standard wording was used. The attitude towards these accusations was critical because the court sees them as a means of defending themselves. Usually that is the end of it. But in this case the judge went on to describe them as an attempt ‘to confuse the public’. For a judge to say of course this borders on indecency, almost verges on breaking the rules. The verdict was afterall completely on the verge of breaking the rules in all ways. I am not expressing my opinion of its legality and of the grounds on which it was based, nor, as they say, am I ‘evaluating the judge’s assessment of the evidence’. For me, something else is obvious: the accused spoke of torture, but the investigation into this was very poorly conducted. I am not simply saying this. I have seen the documents relating to this investigation.
Is this verdict a signal that torture is now suitable to use for obtaining evidence?
This verdict demonstrates a certain intransigence on the part of the repressive authorities. After all, when there was a buzz surrounding trials like this one, the court would usually investigate the entire body of evidence more carefully. If people claimed that there were circumstances that could have made the evidence inadmissible, the court would independently examine the evidence and comment on the legality of introducing it. In this case, everything was done very crudely. We didn’t hear any explanations about this from the court in the verdict. This is clearly being done in a demonstrative manner.
When you created the Committee Against Torture in 2000, torture was considered uncommon. Today it’s almost thought of as the norm. How did the attitude of the average citizen change?
I’m going to say something seditious: I don’t think that torture has increased in the past 20 years. Take any case and I can find a similar one from 20 years ago. But it is obvious that society’s attitude towards such things has changed. And I’m sad to say that the government doesn’t see this at all. Over the past year, I have spoken with various high-ranking individuals about the need to make changes to the legal framework of the Investigative Committee, to the Criminal Code, and so on. The first thing I hear from deputies and the President alike was that the issue of torture isn’t a legislative problem, it is a matter of society’s attitude towards it. People tolerate it. President Putin said to me, “Of course we need to make changes, let’s think about it.” A year has passed since then, and nothing has changed. But there’s much more information now, conclusive and reliable information. The Internet is teeming with clips of beatings in penal colonies, and people understand that it’s happening. People see recordings of how prisoners are beaten with clubs, but these people don’t take issue with it. Or when these same outrages occur at rallies. People are on the ground, being tasered or beaten with rubber sticks, in places where the law forbids the police from beating people. And people are growing accustomed to long prison sentences.
So will people really start thinking of sentences longer than 10 years for political activity as normal?
People really are getting accustomed to long prison sentences. But the thing is, people are more sensitive to torture.
If we’re acknowledging that the extent of violence creates tolerance in society, then is the government perhaps consciously taking advantage of people’s habit of not responding to other people’s pain?
You shouldn’t think that the tolerant attitude is gaining traction. On the contrary, people now react more strongly about reports of torture. Maybe this has to do with the fact that 20 years ago torture was used to elicit confessions of participation in organized crime groups. And people thought that participation in an organized crime group would definitely not be applied against them. But when they see that torture is used against demonstrators, airsoft players, runners, that it’s used against anyone, not terrorists… Then it’s easier for people to see how it applies to them. They are more outraged. When we said 20 years ago that in a day the police can make a killer of you, a leader of an organized crime group, a thug, and so on, people didn’t really believe it. But now they see that if you enjoy airsoft guns and you criticize Putin, the police have enough to make a terrorist out of you. […]
Translated by Mary McAuley and Nina dePalma