European Court Bans Extradition of Belarus Citizen


Svetlana Gannushkina, 20/10/10

· Strasbourg Court · Court Defence · Refugees, Migrants

Vadim Kozhaev, born 1974 in Gomel and citizen of the Republic of Belarus, was detained in Moscow on 23 November 2009 and placed in pre-trial detention centre No. FBU IZ-77/4 UFSIN on the grounds of a warrant issued by the law enforcement authorities of Belarus.

Vadim Kozhaev’s wife, Natalya Karpenko, turned for help to the Civic Assistance Committee. She believes her husband is innocent and that his life would be in extreme danger if he returned to Belarus.
Natalya Karpenko and Vadim Kozhaev became members of the International Society of Consciousness of Krishna in 1990. In 1992 Vadim Kozhaev was asked by his spiritual adviser, Shrila Nirandzhana Svami, to spread knowledge of the Krishna faith, and he became a missionary.

Although the International Society of Consciousness of Krishna rejects violence and is officially registered in many countries, in Belarus it is classified as a totalitarian sect and its followers are persecuted.

Vadim Kozhaev has been threatened multiple times in connection with his religious activities. His daughter and wife have also come under severe pressure.

In September 2004 a criminal case against Vadim Kozhaev was opened under Article 208 Part 2 (extortion) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. He was found guilty on 11 November 2004 and sentenced to a four-year term in an “open” prison. Natalya Karpenko is convinced that the case had been fabricated solely as a result of her husband’s missionary activities.

The threats continued while Vadim Kozhaev was serving his sentence, and this prompted Vadim Kozhaev to escape from prison. In March 2005, Vadim Kozhaev, together with his wife Natalya Karpenko, arrived in Moscow.

In April 2005 a warrant was issued for the arrest of Vadim Kozhaev by the Belarus authorities, and in December he was charged with refusing to serve a prison sentence. Meanwhile, until February 2009, Natalya Karpenko and Vadim Kozhaev lived peacefully in Moscow.

However, on 11 February 2010, the public prosecutor’s office of Gomel region ordered that Vadim Kozhaev be charged with two particularly grave crimes, namely, the attempted murder of Mr. Postnikov on 8 December 1998 and the murder of Mr. Zakharko on 19 August 1993. On the same day in his absence an order for his detention in custody was issued. A warrant was issued for his arrest.

Both of the crimes with which Vadim Kozhaev was charged had been committed long before he fled Belarus where he was then living, without trying to hide, actively popularizing his beliefs, and where he had undergone a court trial and imprisonment in relation to other charges. Therefore Civic Assistance Committee accepted as trustworthy Natalya Karpenko’s assertion that the charges had been fabricated and were politically motivated. Roza Magomedova, a lawyer from the Memorial Human Rights Centre’s Migration and Law Network, was assigned to Vadim Kozhaev’s case.

The situation further developed along lines familiar to us from the extradition cases of citizens from Central Asian countries.

With his lawyer’s assistance, Vadim Kozhaev submitted an application for refugee status and was rejected. He appealed and his application was again rejected. Then he submitted an application for temporary asylum. At the same time that he was applying for asylum, he also appealed against the decision of 12 April 2010 of the Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation to grant the request of the Prosecutor General Office of the Republic of Belarus to extradite Vadim Kozhaev to that country. On 6 September, Moscow City Court dismissed Vadim Kozhaev’s appeal.

All this time the Prosecutor’s Office has been prolonging the term of Vadim Kozhaev’s custody.

A hearing into the appeal against the decision of Moscow City Court was set for 20 October 2010 in the Supreme Court of Russia.

On 18 October, an application was submitted to the European Court of Human Rights containing on the circumstances of Vadim Kozhaev’s case. On 19 October, the European Court informed Vadim Kozhaev’s lawyer, Roza Magomedova, of its decision to apply Regulation No. 39 to the case, thereby banning the extradition of Vadim Kozhaev to Belarus until a final decision on his case had been reached. It also suggested that a full application be submitted to the Court within a two-week period. A similar message was received by the Representative of Russia to the European Court of Human Rights. It is this official’s responsibility to inform the relevant authorities of the Russian Federation of the decision of the European Court.

We point out that under the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus the crimes with which Vadim Kozhaev has been charged are punishable by the death penalty.

Svetlana Gannushkina

Chair of Civic Assistance, head of the Memorial Human Rights Centre’s Migration and Law Network, member of the board of International Memorial Society.
Rights in Russia,
22 Oct 2010, 09:23