A speedy trial, Russian style

In December 2012 judge Tatiana Neverova acquitted a senior prison official accused of causing the death of Sergei Magnitsky.*

In December 2013, she was asked to transfer from jail to house arrest a paralyzed man accused of a non-violent crime, fraud. She refused.

Vladimir Topekhin had been injured in an accident days before he was arrested in July 2013. He suffered from pain in the spine and could barely walk. While in jail, his health declined further and he lost the use of his legs and one arm. He was hospitalized but soon discharged and returned to a jail cell, still unable to move his legs and his arm.

Technically, Neverova did not decline the transfer unconditionally: she said she would authorize it if the prison medics approved it, which – as she probably knew well – they would not do.

The defense appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It responded at once, demanding to see more details from the Russian government.

Unexpectedly for the defense, Neverova scheduled the trial for January 13. It was held in the prison building, in a room where jail inmates meet their lawyers and investigators. Throughout the hearing, with lasted from 10am to 9pm, Topekhin lay on a gurney without a pillow, one hand cuffed to the gurney, the other holding a Bible. Once or twice prison medics injected him with painkillers and changed his diaper. While they were busy with the defendant, the judge would walk out into another room serving as her makeshift chambers where the prosecutor joined her. The defense counsel and human rights observers could hear her laughing and chatting with the prosecutor.

And so proceeded the trial. The judge rejected all the defense requests and refused to acknowledge that the defendant was in pain and could not stand trial, saying he was probably simulating distress. Late in the day she wound up the hearings and retired to her room. Just 15 minutes later she emerged with a verdict and a sentence – a multi-page document that cannot possibly be drafted in 15 minutes. There is little doubt she had it mostly ready before the trial even started, which is typical of Russian judges.

Predictably, Neverova found Topekhin guilty and sentenced him to six years in a labor camp. After all, he still has one hand to work with.

Russian links: Grani.ru reports (an opposition site); Novaya Gazeta‘s blog; Zekov.net, a prisoner rights portal.


*Granted, the prosecutor asked for acquittal at the end of the hearing. But the judge had been hostile to Magnitsky’s family throughout the trial, which degenerated into a sad farce.

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