Russian authorities receive urgent request for information from ECtHR over treatment of paralysed remand prisoner Vladimir Topekhin

posted 20 Jan 2014, 06:08 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Jan 2014, 00:45 ]
15 January 2014

Source: (info)
The European Court of Human Rights has intervened in the case of Vladimir Topekhin, a paralysed man held in one of Moscow’s pre-trial detention centres. The ECtHR has sent an urgent request to the Russian Government for information on the state of his health, the conditions of his detention and the scope of medical assistance he is currently receiving.

According to the Agora Human Rights Association, the request is referred to in a letter sent by the Strasbourg court and received on 15 January by Topekhin’s legal representative, the lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina.

The letter from the ECtHR is dated 17 December 2013, and the Russian Government was given a deadline of 2 January 2014 to gather information on the health of the paralysed man.

It is not yet known whether the government has received this letter or responded to it, but on 13 January 2014, during a circuit session held by Moscow’s Tverskoi district court at the Matrosskaya Tishina pre-trial detention centre, the criminal case against Vladimir Topekhin was heard in a single day. He was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment in a standard regime penal colony.

Topekhin’s lawyer Svetlana Sidorkina received the sentence today (15 January) and is preparing to appeal soon against what she believes is an unlawful and unjustified decision. She also received notice of the court’s decision not to grant her request for more lenient treatment of Topekhin on the grounds of his state of health, and she intends to appeal against this decision as well.

According to Anna Karetnikova, a member of Moscow’s Public Oversight Committee (POC), on 15 January the convict Vladimir Topekhin was transferred from a pre-trial detention centre to City Clinical Hospital No 20. His lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina, believes that the decision to transfer him to the public hospital may be a direct consequence of the request sent by the European Court of Human Rights to the Russian Government.

In other developments in the case, on 15 January the press service of Moscow’s Tverskoi district court was forced to explain its reasons for the conviction of the 31-year-old auditor Vladimir Topekhin, a sentence issued in a single day, following high-profile reports in the Russian media. The press service said that a medical examination had been carried out and a medical panel had found that Topekhin was not suffering from any conditions which would prevent his detention, and that according to reports by the head of the medical wing of pre-trial detention centre No 2 (Butyrka) Topekhin was under observation and being offered all the necessary medical assistance, but he himself was refusing the prescribed treatment. It is worth pointing out that Topekhin has been in a different pre-trial detention centre (“Matrosskaya Tishina”, pre-trial detention centre No 1) since the start of November, after being transferred due to a deterioration in the state of his health.

Sidorkina submitted an urgent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights for the immediate release of 31-year-old Vladimir Topekhin on 16 December 2013, on the grounds of the threat posed to his health and life. Topekhin began experiencing symptoms of paralysis in the Butyrka pre-trial detention centre, after which he was transferred to Matrosskaya Tishina. Three weeks later he was moved from there to a special guarded ward in City Clinical Hospital No 20. Since 9 December Topekhin has been refused visits from his lawyer, Svetlana Sidorkina. The lawyer has asked the Strasbourg court to seek the immediate release of Topekhin (in application of Rule 39 of the Rules of Court) and to oblige Russia to carry out a medical examination of Topekhin to confirm that he is suffering from a serious condition which prevents him from being held in detention.

According to Sidorkina’s appeal, “His health deteriorated rapidly during his time in the pre-trial detention centre. He began to suffer from symptoms of paralysis and lost all use of his lower body. He is incapable of any independent movement, and he remains permanently in a lying position. Topekhin told the medical staff at the pre-trial detention centre No 2 in Moscow that he had suffered spinal injuries in a car accident shortly before his arrest and that he needed a neurosurgical specialist, but his requests were ignored. None of the pre-trial detention centres in Moscow employ a neurosurgical specialist, and none of them have the specialist equipment needed for neurosurgical investigations.

A criminal case against Vladimir Topekhin was opened on February 2012 in connection with accusations of fraud. On 16 July 2013 he was arrested, and on the following day he was detained in the Butyrka pre-trial detention centre No 2. From 19 October on he was placed under observation in the centre’s medical wing. The hearing of his case was postponed five times because prison guards refused to take the prisoner to court as no vehicles suitable for transporting supine patients were available, and because the Butyrka administration refused to assign a member of staff and medical personnel to accompany him.

In her appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, the lawyer Sidorkina noted that the prison guards had attempted to transport Topekhin to Moscow’s Tverskoi district court on 24 October, and that “he suffered several blows to the head, legs and spine”.

“This resulted in a very rapid and marked deterioration in the state of his health, and the prison guards abandoned their attempt to take him to court and returned him to the pre-trial detention centre No 2, out of fear of the consequences,” noted the lawyer.

Due to the problems involved in transporting the defendant, on 14 November 2013 a circuit hearing was held by Moscow’s Tverskoi district court, and Topekhin’s period of detention was extended until 30 March 2014.

On 20 November the prisoner was transferred to Moscow’s pre-trial detention centre No 1 (Matrosskaya Tishina) on medical grounds, and on 9 December he was then taken to City Clinical Hospital No 20.

The case materials contain an appeal written by Vladimir Topekhin himself, dated 5 November. In his own words, “…they give me tablets and injections which make me worse. My legs have stopped working and I can do nothing but lie flat on my back. …In the past few days the pain in my spine has got worse, my head hurts and I am dizzy, I have a buzzing in my ears and I have also fainted several times over the past few days, but the medical staff do not take any notice at all".

Anna Karetnikova, a member of the Moscow POC, stated in a blog post on 5 December that a paralysed man who had been involved in a car accident shortly before his arrest was being held in Matrosskaya Tishina. Karetnikova wrote that, “He was sent to pre-trial detention centre No 2, in Butyrka, where he began to suffer symptoms of paralysis of his lower body. He lost the use of his legs and part of his torso. He then lost the use of one of his arms.” The man was transferred to Matrosskaya Tishina (pre-trial detention centre No 1) to a ward for intensive therapy.

“He lies completely naked, without any clothes at all, under a rough blanket. His toilet is a tube attached to a catheter. He has not washed in a month. He cannot clean his teeth on his own. They rub him down with a damp towel. This is a person who cannot move at all, despite his young age,” wrote Anna Karetnikova on her blog.

Translated by Joanne Reynolds