First Case Involving Roma Filed against Russia with the European Court of Human Rights

29 October 2003

On December 25, 2002, the Moscow-based non-governmental organisation International Protection Center (IPC) filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg on behalf of a Romani woman named Ms Svetlana Stepanova. The complaint claimed violations of Articles 3 (prohibition of torture), 5(1) (right to liberty and security of person), 5(3) (right to trial within a reasonable time or release pending trial), 6(1) (right to a fair trial), 6(3) (right to adequate defence), 8 (right to respect for private and family life), and 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

The complaint was filed following Ms Stepanova's arrest for suspected drug trafficking and subsequent unjust pre-trial detention and trial. According to the IPC, at approximately 7:40 PM on November 23, 2000, police officers detained Mr D. Sokolov, suspected of being under the influence of drugs. The officers allegedly found 0.81 grams of heroin on Mr Sokolov, which they took away from him. Mr Sokolov reportedly told the officers that he had purchased the heroin from a Romani woman called "Patrina", who was later identified as Ms Stepanova. According to the IPC, following his detention, Mr Sokolov consented to participate in a so-called "control-purchase" of drugs. On November 24, 2000, according to Mr Sokolov's testimony given to the police, he telephoned "Patrina" and told her that he would bring a television set to her house. Mr Sokolov was then taken to "Patrina's" house in a police car driven by Officer Semygin. Mr Sokolov reportedly met Patrina on the road not far from her home and gave her the television set in return for 1 gram of heroin. Following the transaction, Mr Sokolov gave the packet of heroin to the police.

According to the IPC, shortly thereafter, several police officers together with special police force officers dressed in camouflage clothing and armed with shields and sledgehammers, forced their way into the home in which "Patrina" lived with her four underage children. The officers, who did not have a search warrant, reportedly found the television set in the flat and took it with them, and detained Ms Stepanova. The IPC reported that during the arrest procedure, the officers beat Ms Stepanova on her head and face and kicked her. At the police station, the officers reportedly kept Ms Stepanova outdoors undressed and handcuffed in an alleged attempt to force her to confess. Ms Stepanova was then body searched by a male police officer without witnesses, in violation of Article 172 of the Russian Criminal Procedure Code. During numerous interrogations, the IPC reported, Ms Stepanova repeatedly claimed that the itemised protocol of the body search did not list all the objects taken away from her.

According to the IPC, the forced entry and search of Ms Stepanova home by police was registered as a survey of the scene of an incident while in actuality, the police conducted an illegal house search. Ms Stepa- nova's later-appointed attorney claimed that the search was in violation of Article 25 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which states, "Nobody has the right to enter a home against the will of those living in this home, except for cases foreseen by the law or on the basis of a court decision", as well as Article 168 of the Criminal Procedure Code which sets out the "Basis for conducting a search." According to the IPC, the police conducted a second unsanctioned search of Ms Stepanova's home on November 25, 2000.

The IPC reported that following her detention, Ms Stepanova was interrogated several times in the capacity of a witness and participated in a police line-up in which Mr Sokolov was shown. At the end of the official investigation into her case, Ms Stepanova was charged in accordance with Article 228(4) of the Criminal Code for unlawful possession of drugs in especially large quantities with the purpose of selling it and selling large quantities of drugs.

Despite the fact that Ms Stepa-nova was illiterate, she was not provided with a defence attorney until November 28, 2000, when she was first identified as a suspect, according to the IPC. The conclusions of the drug analysis were communicated to Ms Stepanova in the absence of her attorney, and, despite her illiteracy, the IPC noted that there was no mention in her case file that the concluding document had been read aloud for her. Ms Stepanova was held in pre-trial detention until June 25, 2002, at which time the judge announced the guilty verdict in her case. During this period, Ms Stepanova and her attorney sent several appeals each to various courts requesting that she be allowed to stay at home during the trial period as she was the only adult who cared for her four underage children. All appeals were reportedly rejected.

On May 16, 2002, the Taganskij area court of Moscow found Ms Stepanova guilty and sentenced her to six-years-imprisonment and ordered that her property be confiscated. The IPC reported that Ms Stepanova appealed her case all the way to the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, but her appeal was rejected at every instance.

(International Protection Center)


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