Court rules police actions against human rights defenders illegal

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Created 19/11/2009 - 15:40

· Human Rights Defenders

· Police

· Tatarstan

Vakhitovsky district court in the city of Kazan has ruled there were five violations in the actions of the Tatarstan tax police both during and after the search carried out at the offices of AGORA, a human rights group based in the city. The court instructed the police authority to eliminate the violations. Judge Airat Usmanov did not rule on the legality of some of the police actions about which AGORA had complained since these had already been recognized as illegal by the Tatarstan prosecutor's office.

Today the human rights defenders received from the court a copy of yesterday’s decision. Kazan’s Vakhitovsky court ruled that Tatarstan police violated the federal law ‘On Banks and Banking Activity’, including the article that requires that banks guarantee the confidentiality of their clients’ operations, accounts and deposits. The court found that in July 2009 the police requested from the bank “information about those persons who had the right to sign payment documents, with examples of their signatures, and about those with power of attorney, which contradicts the above-mentioned provision of the law”. Agora’s lawyers [1] have noted that the divulging of confidential information held by a bank is an offence under the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, and where this is done by police officers, this constitutes an abuse of office.

The Court ruled that the Tatarstan tax police, after the raid of 21 July, in violation of the federal law "On criminal investigations”, illegally demanded from the human rights group its financial documents. Judge Usmanov noted in his decision that, in accordance with this law, "those conducting an investigation (the police) are empowered to seize or receive documents or their copies only during an investigation”. The judge stressed that after the 21 July, although no investigation of the NGO Agora was being conducted, on three occasions the tax police made requests that the organization provide information concerning its financial activities “which is illegal”. The police made similar requests of a philanthropic organization funding Agora, and also of a large number of Agora’s contractors.

The Vakhitovsky court ruled that, in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation, the official record of the search of the offices of the human rights organization failed to indicate the conditions and procedures for the use of video cameras. Judge Airat Usmanov noted in his decision: "As a result, it is unclear whether there were breaks in the recording of the search, which lasted over 10 hours."

The court also concluded that, for no good reason, the police’s official record of the search of Agora’s offices failed to describe their actions during the search and the order in which these actions took place. Moreover, the court drew attention to one further violation of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation. The final official record of the search of the human rights group’s office was not signed by all those police officers present during the search, in particular, there is no signature by the officer who made the video recording.

Even before this decision of the Vakhitovsky district court of Kazan, on the instruction of the Prosecutor General's Office, the Tatarstan prosecutor reviewed the legality of the actions of the police during the July searches of the human rights group. As a result, deputy prosecutor Gazinur Galimov ordered, with regard to the violations by the police officers of the law and of the interests of the NGO, that the leaders of those groups that conducted the searches at the offices of the human rights organization be brought to account. During the court hearings the NGO’s lawyers were able to see the order of the deputy police minister of Tatarstan, Raphael Gilmanov, who had himself signed the order for the searches of the human rights group’s offices, and now personally gave a dressing down to his own officers for the violations. In the document the deputy head of the Tatarstan police, “for violating the requirements of the Criminal Procedure Code of the Russian Federation and the law on criminal investigations," set out a formal rebuke to senior police lieutenant Evgeny Popov, senior officer of the first department of the first investigation division of the Tatarstan police, and an officer of the same department, police major Vilsur Saetgaraev. This rebuke was announced to the staff of the tax police of the Tatarstan police authority.

The police investigation ended in September 2009 when the prosecutor’s office refused to open a criminal case against the managers and accountants of Agora and its partner organization. Nevertheless, an investigation continued in secret. The human rights activists obtained evidence, which they presented in court to the prosecutor’s representatives for an official evaluation of the legality of the actions of the police, that, after the end of the investigation and on the instructions of the tax police, officers questioned individuals who were receiving assistance from the NGO. The police, in their explanation to the prosecutors, did not deny carrying out additional investigations, but explained that the police were not then acting on their own initiative, but as part of a tax audit. In stating this, the police had apparently forgotten that the tax inspection was completed on 5 October, 2009, with the signing of the relevant certificate (the results of the audit will be known by 5 December). Today, the head of the Tax Inspectorate, Elena Lukyanova, assured Agora that after 5 October no instructions had been given to the police by the tax authorities. Moreover, she pointed out that if the police were now to submit any new documents to the Inspectorate, they would be unlikely to be taken into consideration.

It should be remembered that on 20 July, 2009, staff of the Tatarstan tax police conducted a search of the offices of Agora that ended late at night on 21 July. In the course of the search, the police seized computers and 2793 pages of various documents. After the intervention of international and Russian NGOs, including in September that of the Presidential Council for the Promotion of Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, the Tatarstan prosecutor’s office refused to open a criminal case against the managers and accountants of the human rights defenders on the basis that there was no illegality in their actions.

The ruling of the Vakhitovsky district court, the decision of the Tatarstan prosecutor’s office concerning the illegal actions of the police, and the order of the deputy police minister of Tatarstan on the holding to account of police officers can be read here [2].

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Rights in Russia,
19 Nov 2009, 14:40