Staunton, October 30 – Courts in all countries consider some cases in closed session as when the cases touch on sensitive issues of national security, but in Russia, there is a disturbing new trend: ever more cases involving administrative charges against participants in meetings or those posting on the Internet charged with extremism are being held behind closed doors.
“The official reason,” Natalya Granina of the Lenta news agency says, is so that the names and faces of the police who have been involved with bringing the charges won’t be publicly identified given that many of them “struggle with terrorism and extremism in their free time” (lenta.ru/articles/2018/10/30/sudebnaya_tauna/).
This trend is especially worrisome now given that Vladimir Putin has directed that cases against those who post things online should be treated as administrative rather than criminal matters; but trying such people in secret not only is more intimidating but opens the way to more repression of more people.
The Kremlin leader is thus taking away with one hand what he offered with the other and doesn’t deserve the credit for “liberalization” that he has sometimes been given by commentators in Moscow and observers in the West.
Interestingly, the presidential decree Russian courts use to close administrative cases was issued not by Putin recently but by Boris Yeltsin on November 30, 1995. That decree gives judges and prosecutors sweeping powers to close almost any case they want without providing the possibility of a legal appeal.
Sometimes, Granina says, the actions of the courts in this regard are truly absurd. Thus, judges and prosecutors will say they have to close the doors lest the identity of the police involved be exposed even when the names and even photographs of those very same police are in the public domain.
Dinar Idrisov, a rights activist for Sitting Russia, the umbrella group that monitors the court and penal system, says that increasingly this practice is being used to avoid public comment on what the courts are doing. He adds that it is spreading and that his group plans to appeal to the European Court for Human Rights.
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