By Natalia Prilutskaya, Campaigner for Amnesty International’s Russia Team
Russian human rights activist Aleksei Sokolov has just been sentenced to five years in a high security prison colony.
We all hoped until the last moment that the court would find Aleksei Sokolov not guilty in all three of the crimes he was charged with, and that he would be released. The sentencing took place exactly one year after Aleksei Sokolov’s arrest by police outside his house in Yekaterinburg.
The judge of the Bogdanovich town court in the Sverdlovsk region cleared Aleksei Sokolov of one charge – a robbery in 2004, but found him guilty of theft, allegedly committed in 2001 and another robbery, allegedly committed in 2004.
Aleksei Sokolov is the head of Pravovaia Osnova (Legal Basis), an organization which is campaigning against torture and other ill-treatment in Russian prisons.
He became well-known after he publicized and distributed the film Torture Factory about torture and other ill-treatment in a temporary holding centre in Yekaterinburg prison colony IK-2. The film received wide coverage, both in Russia and internationally, and led to the closure of IK-2.
Aleksei Sokolov’s lawyers reported that the court based its verdict solely on the statements of the co-accused in the case, which often contradicted each other as well as the individuals’ earlier “confessions”.
One of Aleksei Sokolov’s lawyers said that while victims of the crimes had identified the other defendants in the case as possible perpetrators of the crime, none of them had identified Aleksei Sokolov. The court nevertheless found that the co-defendants’ statements were enough to convict Aleksei Sokolov.
I wonder why the judge didn’t take note of the obvious discrepancies.
Aleksei Sokolov will appeal against his sentence and it is expected that the appeal will be considered in June. But will he receive a fair trial on appeal if, as his lawyers reported, there were numerous violations in handling his case at pre-trial and trial stages?
So far, compared to other detainees, he has been treated relatively well, possibly due to the international attention that his case has received. But what will happen when he is sent, as rumours say, to serve his sentence in a prison colony in the Russian Far East, some thousands of kilometres from his family and friends?
He has done so much to expose cases of ill-treatment and torture in prison colonies. Will he become another victim of the ruthless machine of Russian penitentiary system?
While there is still time, we need to do all we can to urge the Russian authorities to ensure Aleksei Sokolov is provided with a fair trial. We also need to urge them to ensure that Aleksei Sokolov is not tortured or ill-treated while he remains in custody.
With this case we have seen how international attention and pressure may have contributed to the prosecutors’ decision to ask for a lesser punishment for Aleksei Sokolov. Let us take more action to ensure that justice and truth win in this case.
Please, if you can, join with our activists in Spain who have just issued a web action lobbying their Minister of Foreign Affairs to take up the case of Aleksei Sokolov at the upcoming EU-Russia summit, or join the Urgent Action on Aleksei Sokolov.
Justice for Aleksei Sokolov! (Blog, 21 May 2010)