Vienna, February 7 – A Russian judge has refused to consider a complaint filed by a legal rights group on behalf of the victim of a crime because she says that group lacks the standing to do so, the first such judicial ruling of its kind by a Russian court and one that may be a bellwether of the way in which the courts there may seek to restrict the role of rights groups. But in dismissing the complaint, Kazan Judge Lyudmila Petrova made a remarkable concession. She said that legal rights groups are limited to “providing help to a person whose rights and interests have been violated and also participation in judicial sessions in the interests of such an individual” (forum.msk.ru/material/region/742943.html).
Igor Sholokhov, the head of the Kazan Legal Defense Center, said that he and his group “very much want to express [their] gratitude to the respected judge because she for the first time in judicial practice ruled what ‘the functions’ of the defenders of legal rights should be and how they are to be fulfilled.”
But Center’s legal defense activist said that “unfortunately,” the judge was mistaken in her ruling and that he and his colleagues will appeal her decision because they “intend to use all means offered by law to help [the individual involved] and not only those means Judge Lyudmila Petrova offers.”
The case which led to this decision is itself interesting. On November 5th of last year, 18-year-old Artur Fayzrakhmanov and a friend attempted to quiet down two drunken visitors at an Internet café. The latter turned out to be militia officers, who then showed Fayzrakhmanov their documents and ordered Artur to go outside.
Once the youth was there, he was set upon by several people, beaten severely, robbed of a gold bracelet and mobile phone, and, with the assistance of the militiamen, pushed into the trunk of a car and driven to a vacant lot. Eventually, the 18-year-old was able to escape and call a militia office for assistance.
His report at that time led to charges being brought against both those who had beaten and robbed him and also against one of the militiamen for exceeding his authority in the use of force. The former charges stand, but on December 26th, prosecutors dropped the charges against the militiaman for his role in this affair.
Dmitry Korsakov, a lawyer for the Kazan Legal Defense Center, with a document signed by Fayzrakhmanov that was then notarized, filed a complaint against the decision of the prosecutors with the Moscow District Court in the Tatarstan capital. But Judge Petrova refused to consider the complaint once she learned where Korsakov worked.
She said she could not even consider the appeal because “in correspondence with paragraph 125 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, only participants [in legal proceedings have the right to lodge complaints,” and thus no judge can consider “complaints made in the interests of anyone by legal rights organizations or individual legal rights activists.”
The Center’s Sholokhov said that his group has been involved with numerous criminal cases in which members of the militia were directly involved, but this is “the first time” any judge has adopted “such an unusual approach” in rejecting a complaint filing by the center’s lawyers.
Because the Center’s lawyers are convinced that the charges against the militiaman should not have been dropped, Sholokhov said they will appeal. But he said that he and his colleagues were pleased that Judge Petrova had acknowledged and even enumerated “the functions” of groups like theirs.
Whether this constitutes another step forward toward the law-based state President Dmitry Medvedev has said he wants Russia to become or alternatively yet another way for the powers that be in that country to restrict the ability of such groups to operate and hence of individuals to defend their rights, however, remains very much an open question.