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The European Court will deal with Maksim Lapunov’s complaint about torture and ineffective investigation

News

24 May 2019
Maksim Lapunov during the press-conference at Novaya Gazeta. Photo: Anna Artemyea / Novaya Gazeta

For two years, Maksim Lapunov, who claimed of having been tortured in Chechnya, failed to see the effective investigation of his complaint at the national level. With regard to this, lawyers with the Committee Against Torture, representing the interests of Lapunov, applied today to the European Court of Human Rights.

As we have already reported, Maksim Lapunov applied to the Investigative Committee of Russia with a complaint, stating that in spring 2017 he was illegally detained in Grozny by the police officers in civilian clothes and taken to the police department basement where he was beaten up by cuts of plastic tubing. According to the applicant, he was kept in that basement from 16 to 28 March 2017, after that he was released and instructed not to apply to law-enforcement agencies on any account. However, Lapunov’s application was received on 21 September 2017 at the Chief Investigative Directorate of Russia, and a check was initiated with its regard.

On 28 September the applicant himself arrived at Essentuki of the Stavropol Territory, where he was questioned by the investigator and filed a motion on applying state protection measures to him. However, during almost three weeks of his stay at the North Caucasus the investigation never managed to resolve the issue on applying the measures of state protection to the applicant, as well as failed to conduct an incident site examination with his participation, despite the fact that Maksim insisted that he was ready to show the location where he was kept, as well as the traces of his stay there. Seeing that the investigation is not progressing, the state protection is not provided, and the threat is aggravating each day, the applicant was forced to leave the North Caucasus Federal District and then Russia, too.

Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture, representing Maksim Lapunov’s interests, from the very start of the check started to point out numerous procedural violations by the investigative authorities. For example, Lapunov’s representatives were not allowed to participate in checking activities together with the applicant, although the latter insisted on lawyers’ participation. Necessary checking activities, which Lapunov insisted on, were not performed; in addition, the investigators time after time violated the timeline of motions’ examination. On each of these violations human rights defenders applied complaints to the Essentuki City Court under Article 125 of the Criminal Procedural Code, and part of these violations was acknowledged by the court.

On 21 March 2018, investigator on major cases of the Chief Investigative Directorate of the Investigative Committee of Russia for the North Caucasian Federal District Vitaliy Polivanov issued a refusal to initiate criminal proceedings based on Maksim Lapunov’s torture complaint. Lawyers with the Committee Against Torture appealed against this investigator’s ruling in court.

The appeal mentioned numerous drawbacks of the investigation, as well as the fact that the check was conducted only formally, without establishing all the circumstances of the case. But the Essentuki City Court dismissed the human rights defenders’ arguments and the appeal, itself. The Stavropol Territory Court upheld this ruling, having refused to accept the arguments of Lapunov’s representatives.

Since the legal remedy for Lapunov at the national level was exhausted, today, human rights defenders submitted an application to the European Court of Human Rights on his behalf. Now, the Strasbourg judges will have to provide their evaluation of both the fact of illegal apprehension and torture of the applicant, and the actions of the Investigative Committee investigators, who failed to conduct a quality investigation for two years.

Maksim Lapunov’s interests at the European Court will be represented by lawyer with the Committee Against Torture Olga Sadovskaya and Veronika Lapina, the Russian LGBT network officer, who was providing support to Maksim during the last few years.

“The method of reprisal, described by Lapunov, is not new for Chechnya. Another applicant, Islam Umarpashayev, had a similar story – he was also kept in special secret premises, beaten up, and then he was released because the information about his disappearance became too high-profile. However, there is an important element in Maksim’s case, which makes it different from the previous cases from Chechnya – it is discrimination based on sexual orientation. His evidence and the law-enforcement officers’ behavior, described by many sources, as well as other data give us grounds to claim that Maksim was selected as a victim exactly because he is gay”, – Olga Sadovskaya emphasized.