Staunton, December 31 – In its handling of the Navalny case, the Kremlin has shown how it uses “the appearance of legality” to cover what has become “the illegality” of the Russian legal system and thus is important as a marker of the broader and complete degradation of that system, according to Ella Paneyakh.
In a commentary for RBC.ru today, the sociologist says that the way in which the Russian government acted in the Navalny case shows that it now is quite capable of going “as far as is in general possible” in moving from a legal system to one where the laws are simply political tools (http://daily.rbc.ru/opinions/politics/30/12/2014/54a2e15d9a794742a1f63efb).
The number of violations of law and legal practice in this case, Paneyakh says, is staggering: Under normal procedure, neither brother would have been sentenced to jail after the Yve Rocher company denied that it had suffered damages, and the bother (Aleksey) who was already under suspended sentence would have been sent to jail.
Moreover, there were other problems. On the one hand, the court simply ignored regular order and issued a decision without reading the text and in effect took a hostage. And on the other, the sentences, which violate that order, very much appear to be have the result of telephone justice, of phone calls from above directing the judge what to say and when.
It is important to recognize that what happened to the Navalny brothers is simply “the result of what has happened in the [Russian] criminal justice system in recent years.” The situation is now so bad that the authorities no longer feel any need to “veil” political cases with legal niceties and assume they can cover everything with “television propaganda.
The sentences in this case, she continues, represent “a completely new level of legal arbitrariness even in comparison with what has been done” in the past. The entire system is shown to have nothing to do with law, and as a result, it is likely that soon not only the Kremlin but “every regional princeling” will protect himself by dictating “judicial” outcomes.
What happened, of course, was preceded by a series of steps away from law and judicial practice as they had been understood. First, the Russian authorities introduced the widespread use of “criminal intent” to force the verdicts they wanted. Then, they employed a Soviet-like elasticity in applying specific codes to get the “correct” outcomes.
And then, as these things were accepted as the way business is now being done, the authorities simply invoked precedent to do even more, the sociologist writes. “As a result, the legalization of illegal practice has been able to penetrate even into law itself.”
Society, of course, “at each stage had the chance to respond and protest such changes” and thus stop this gutting of law and court procedure. But in all too many cases, the Russian people did nothing and simply accepted what the authorities have done. The Navalny case may change that, but far more protests will be needed.
If they are not forthcoming and if the authorities do not back away from what they have done to the brothers Navalny, then it will be time to speak about something that might be described as the death of law and judicial independence in Putin’s Russia. In that event, everyone is at risk.