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NEWS

Russia violated fair trial rights of Pussy Riot activists in courtroom, says European Court of Human Rights

admin - July 20, 2018 - presumption of innocence; glass boxes

The European Court of Human Rights has condemned the Russian authorities for violating the fair trial rights of members of the punk band and activists Pussy Riot, three of whom had been tried for staging a protest in a Moscow Cathedral in 2012.

On 17th July, the European Court found that the criminal proceedings brought against them had violated their right to a fair trial, in particular to communicate confidentially with their lawyers in the courtroom, as protected by article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The three members were held in a closed glass box for the whole duration of the trial. The box was surrounded by police guards and court ushers, who stood between the box and the desk where the defence lawyers sat. The band members could only make their voices heard through a small window measuring 15 x 60 cm. Such a set up obviously made any confidential communication with the lawyers impossible.

The European Court found that this arrangement ran contrary to “[…] an accused’s right to communicate with his lawyer without the risk of being overheard by a third party [which] is one of the basic requirements of a fair trial in a democratic society […]”.

In addition, the Court found that the glass box was applied routinely, without any consideration as to the necessity of such an arrangement in the case, for instance concerning security reasons.

Besides the complete lack of confidential communication with the lawyers, the three women closed in the glass box were constantly exposed to public view through national and international media, in ways that the Court defines as “degrading treatment”.

The facts go back to January 2012, when members of Pussy Riot wrote a protest song called Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away In in response to the public support and endorsement provided by Patriarch Kirill to Mr Putin. A full translation of the lyrics is provided in the judgment of the European Court.

Criminal proceedings are nothing new for Pussy Riot, who have been repeatedly tried and sentenced since its foundation in 2011 for similar acts of protest. Most recently, the group made it into the news for staging a protest in the football pitch of the 2018 final World Cup match. They were calling for the release of political prisoners, the end for illegal detentions at political rallies and more open electoral competition: they are now facing a 15-day sentence in jail.

Glass boxes and other measures of restraint are not a uniquely Russian issue but are used in many countries across Europe, as our network of fair trial defenders, the Legal Experts Advisory Panel (LEAP), reports.

In France, the recent generalised introduction of the glass box in courtrooms prompted widespread protests and legal action by criminal defence lawyers. In response to one such claim, earlier in April, the French Ombudsperson found that placing defendants in glass boxes in court violates their right to be presumed innocent.

Secured “docks” have been installed in many courtrooms in England and Wales since 2000. In Italy, courtrooms usually include boxes with bars, which look like actual cages. In Spain, defendants often attend their trial in handcuffs, a measure that is applied without a proper risk assessment.

At Fair Trials, we are currently researching regulations and practices on the way defendants are presented in the courts of Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Hungary, Malta, and Spain. The findings will help us advocate for a bias-free presentation of defendants in courts across the European Union.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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