A Russian human rights defender has been jailed for five years on charges of theft and robbery amid fears that he may have been targeted for his human rights work.
Aleksei Sokolov, a human rights activist who has campaigned against alleged torture and corruption in law enforcement agencies, was sentenced by the court in Bogdanovich, in the Sverdlosk Region of Russia, on Thursday.
The court found him not guilty of another theft charge. The sentence is to be served in a high security penal colony.
"Aleksei Sokolov was very active in taking up cases of torture and other ill-treatment in Russian prisons, repeatedly resulting in investigations against prison and police officers. He may have been targeted solely for his human rights work," said Andrea Huber, Deputy Europe Director at Amnesty International.
"If so then this would make him a prisoner of conscience."
Aleksei Sokolov, was originally detained in May 2009 arrested and charged with the robbery allegedly committed in Bogdanovich in 2004. When in July 2009 the Sverdlovsk Regional Court ordered that he should be discharged until his trial, instead of being released, the police told him that he was then arrested on suspicion of another robbery committed in 2004. Later prosecution added charges of theft of metal pipes from a factory in 2001. The court cleared Aleksei Sokolov of the second 2004 robbery charges.
Aleksei Sokolov’s lawyers said there have been a series of violations of criminal procedure in the handling of Aleksei Sokolov’s case. He is going to appeal against the verdict.
According to his lawyers, the court based its verdict solely on the statements of the co-accused in this case who are already serving prison sentences for other crimes.
Aleksei Sokolov is founder and head of the Russian human rights organization Pravovaia Osnova (Legal Base) which campaigns against torture and other ill-treatment of detainees in the Russian Federation.
Legal Base brought about several investigations against law enforcement officers on allegations including the use of torture to coerce suspects to "confess."
Aleksei Sokolov rose to prominence after he publicized and distributed a film about torture and other ill-treatment in a temporary holding centre in Yekaterinburg. The film which received international attention, led to the closure of the centre.
He has also investigated possible corruption in some law-enforcement agencies in Yekaterinburg: some officials, according to his findings, had helped to cover up crimes in the temporary holding centre in Yekaterinburg.
In 2008 Aleksei Sokolov was appointed a member of the Public Commission for the control of places of detention and conducted a series of visits to places of detention in this capacity. He was suspended from this position following his detention in May 2009.
In 2008 he learned that several prisoners were being pressured into claiming falsely that he had been involved in crimes including the 2004 robbery, on suspicion of which he has been in custody since 13 May 2009.
Investigations into the theft in 2001 and the robbery in 2004 had been closed several times because the perpetrators could not be identified, but were re-opened shortly before Aleksei Sokolov’s arrest. In the case of the second robbery he was charged with, there is an existing court judgment convicting several people and the case had been officially closed. It was also re-opened days before Aleksei Sokolov was charged with it.