Human rights activist Andrei Babushkin describes Presidential Human Rights Council's visit to top-security ‘Black Dolphin’ prison and Aleksei Pichugin

posted 21 Sep 2015, 02:42 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 21 Sep 2015, 02:52 ]
15 September 2015

Vera Vasileva

Source: HRO.org 
During their two-day working trip to Orenburg region, Mikhail Fedotov, president of the Presidential Human Rights Council (HRC), together with HRC members Andrei Babushkin, Evgeny Bobrov and Igor Kalyapin, visited prison colony no.6. While they were there, they talked to prisoners serving life sentences, including Aleksei Pichugin, who featured in the Yukos affair. Memorial Human Rights Centre in Moscow has declared Pichugin a political prisoner.

Andrei Babushkin, who is chair of the Committee for Civic Rights as well as being a member of the HRC, reported on his visit in his LiveJournal blog.

"We visited Aleksei Pichugin. First we were told that he would refuse to see us, on the basis that he doesn't see anyone except his lawyers. I asked for him to be given the message that it was Babushkin and Fedotov who wanted to see him, and then he agreed to meet us. He was the third of ten people we talked to individually. Just like all the others, he was brought in in handcuffs, bent down towards the floor, and then seated on a stool," Babushkin wrote. He added that it was obvious from talking to Pichugin that he had not given up and was not in despair.

Babushkin said that Aleksei Pichugin had been subject to two disciplinary measures. Babushkin considered "these to be a pretext to prevent Pichugin being transferred to a less severe prison regime.

According to the Russian Federation's Criminal and Penitentiary Code, life prisoners can be held under three possible regimes: stirct, normal or open. Life prisoners are initially subject to the strict regime. This means that a prisoner is only allowed two four-hour visits and one parcel and one package a year.

If their behaviour is good, life prisoners can be transferred to the normal regime after ten years. The main way in which the normal regime differs from the strict regime is that longer visits from family members are allowed, lasting up to three days.

Aleksei Pichugin has been behind bars for more than 12 years.

Babushkin said that human rights defenders recommended the lifting of the disciplinary measures against Pichugin: "I advised Aleksei Pichugin to write a petition [about the disciplinary measures], making it clear that the letter did not mean that he was admitting his guilt. We are prepared to support his request".

At the end of the meeting, which lasted about 7-10 minutes, Andrei Babushkin said to Aleksei Piguchin than he symbolically shook his hand.

"When he went out of the room, someone asked me whether I knew how many people died because of him. We had a heated discussion, during which I was able to provide prison officials with a lot of information that was new to them about Pichugin's case. Incidentally, I thought they were VERY decent people, although they had only been given one-sided information", the human rights defender said.

Beforehand, Aleksei Pichugin's lawyer, Ksenia Kostromina, said in an interview with Ekho Moskvy that Pichugin had not shown any intention to petition for pardon, but that she thought that he would not refuse if the President ever did pardon him.

Photo courtesy of the press service of Orenburg region prison service: HRC members visiting prison colony no.6. 

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Aleksei Pichugin was arrested on 19 June 2003.

In the first trial against him, he was found guilty of organising – supposedly on behalf of Yukos – the murders in 2002 of two business people from Tambov, Sergei and Olga Gorin, as well as the attempted murder in 1998 of the head of the Moscow mayor’s office for public relations, Olga Kostina, and an armed assault on, and attempted murder of, the head of the Rosprom company, Viktor Kolesov.

The bodies of the two alleged victims of murder, the Gorins, were not found. Viktor Kolesov repeated many times during the investigation and in court that he does not believe he was attacked by Pichugin; moreover, he doubted that anyone wanted to kill him. Talk of Yukos' involvement in the explosion on the staircase of the building where Olga Kostina's parents lived only arose nearly five years after her murder, and indeed it contradicts the facts of the case. In addition, Olga Kostina's career had moved on by the time of her death [she had previously been an adviser to major Yukos stakeholder Mikhail Khodorovsky – trans.].

At his second trial, Aleksei Pichugin was found guilty of organising the murders in 1998 of the mayor of Nefteyugansk, Vladimir Petukhov, and of Valentina Korneyeva, the director of Phoenix, a Moscow-based company; he was also found guilty of two attempts, in 1998 and 1999, on the life of Evgeny Rybin, the director of East Petroleum, an Austrian company. State prosecutors maintained that Aleksei Pichugin had acted on the orders of Yukos vice president Leonid Nevzlin, and the court found accordingly.

All supposed evidence presented by prosecutors was in fact hearsay. Convicted criminal Gennady Tsigelnik, one of the main prosecution witnesses, subsequently withdrew his statements against Yukos representatives, saying that he had incriminated Pichugin and Nevzlin on the instructions of the Prosecutor General's investigators in exchange for a reduction in his sentence. But he had been tricked.

Aleksei Pichugin has been held in prison colony no.6, in the town of Sol-Iletsk in Orenburg region, since March 2008. The colony is also known as "Black Dolphin" and is a specialised facility for prisoners serving life sentences.

According to Pichugin's mother Alla Nikolaevna Pichugina in an interview with Open Russia journalist Zoya Svetova, in 2015 her son had required a medical intervention in connection with the veins in his legs.

On 23 October 2012 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) declared that the Russian court ruling in the first Pichugin case had not been justified, as it had violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and therefore a new hearing was essential. According to the Russian Constitution, the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is obliged to conform with ECtHR rulings. However, it has not yet done so.

On 23 March 2015, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg communicated an application by Pichugin concerning his second prosecution.

Aleksei Pichugin has not admitted guilt on any point.

For further information about the case of Aleksei Pichugin, see the website of Memorial Human Rights Centre (Moscow)

Translated by Suzanne Eade Roberts
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