Fighting for law and conscience

Year after year, some lawyers in the Russian Federation selflessly fight for the rights of their clients. But the violations against them and their clients do not lessen, and the forms of these violations are increasingly ruthless and blatant. 

Lawyer Batyr Akhilgov describes this role as being a Don Quixote, “tilting at windmills”.  He spoke to Amnesty International about his work and about defending Rasul Kudaev.

It is a daily struggle for the observance of the law by those who are called upon to defend it. The smaller victories in battle – be it moderated sentences or verdicts of acquittal in jury trials – do not soften the bitterness of overall defeat.

Modern justice in Russia adheres to the argument that ‘confession is the queen of evidence’. Even if all the other evidence contradicts it, the confession of the accused, obtained under torture, will convict him.

A man is tortured. His lawyer complains. But as he’s writing the complaint, the investigators extract a ‘confession’ through torture. From that moment, the man is condemned.

Then, the lawyer’s complaints are formally checked and a decision issued, stating that the accused was not tortured. Appealing this decision in court gets no result. And so, the confession extracted under torture goes to court. In court, the defence draws attention to the complaints, the findings of medical experts which recorded the presence of injuries and photos and videos of the investigation, which clearly show bruises and other injuries. The defence requests that the testimony is recognized as inadmissible evidence.

But the court rejects the application, citing the investigation’s resolution that there was no torture as the absolute truth. And then the only hope is to send the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Defending Rasul Kudaev

I cannot describe in a few words what happened in the trial proceedings for Rasul Kudaev and his 56 co-defendants [in Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria] and how the court showed such an obvious reluctance to see and hear the truth.

It is typical for the Russian system that torture was used in this case, but it is unprecedented in the scope and methods of torture, and by the blatant violations of the law.

We are going to present closing arguments soon [in August] and we will leave no stone unturned in investigating all the statements. The trial showed inconsistencies in the charges against Rasul Kudaev, Kazbek Budtuyev and several other defendants. But the whole course of the court proceedings suggests that the court will merely finish what it started in 2005 and issue a guilty verdict.

Of course, I would like to hope that this case ends differently – with respect for law and conscience.

Act now

Sign our petition to the Prosecutor General’s Office, to ensure that Russian courts do not use evidence obtained under torture.