Постановление ЕСПЧ от 10.10.2013 «Дело «Гакаева и другие (Gakayeva and Others) против Российской Федерации» Часть 9 [англ.]

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THE LAW

I. Joinder of the applications

297. In accordance with Rule 42 § 1 of the Rules of Court, the Court decides to join the applications, given their similar factual and legal background.

II. The Government’s preliminary objection

A. The parties’ submissions

1. Government

298. In their observations in respect of all the applications, the Government submitted that the applicants had not complied with the six-month rule «by failing to exhaust domestic remedies». The Government stated that in all of the applications «the six month time limit starts to run from [the date of] the decision by the cassation court on the applicants’ appeal; in the applicants’ cases no such final decisions have been taken». They further noted that the criminal investigations into the disappearances were still in progress. It was therefore premature to draw any conclusions concerning the alleged ineffectiveness of the domestic criminal proceedings.

2. The applicants

299. The applicants argued that they had complied with the six-month rule and there had been no excessive and unexplained delays in the submission of their applications to the Court. They pointed out that the applications in the case of Varnava and Others v. Turkey [GC], (Nos. 16064/90, 16065/90, 16066/90, 16068/90, 16069/90, 16070/90, 16071/90, 16072/90 and 16073/90, ECHR 2009) had been lodged with the Court within fifteen years of the disappearances, which represented a longer time frame than in their case. In any event, as in the Varnava case, the violations alleged by them were ongoing, so the six-month rule did not apply.
300. In particular, the applicants in Gakayeva (No. 51534/08), Yesiyeva (No. 4401/10), Timiraliyevy (No. 54753/07), Payzulayeva and Others (No. 58131/10), Vakhidova (No. 62207/10) and Musayevy (No. 73784/10) submitted that they had complained to the authorities shortly after their relatives’ abduction and they had hoped that the criminal investigations initiated thereafter would produce results just like in any other official investigation initiated by the authorities in the Russian Federation. They lodged their application with the Court only after they had realised that the investigation had been ineffective. In addition to their references to the Varnava case, the applicants also referred to cases of disappearances in Chechnya, inter alia, to the case of Gerasiyev and Others v. Russia (No. 28566/07, 7 June 2011), in which the application was lodged with the Court more than seven years after the disappearance, and Tashukhadzhiyev v. Russia (No. 33251/04, 25 October 2011), in which the application was lodged with the Court more than eight and half years after the events. Furthermore, the applicants in Alimkhanova and Others (No. 25518/10), Magamadova (28779/10), Arzhiyeva (No. 33175/10), and Elikhanova (No. 47393/10) pointed out that the armed conflict in Chechnya had led them to believe that delays in the investigation were inevitable. Moreover, owing to their poor command of Russian, their lack of legal knowledge and the absence of financial means to hire a lawyer, they had been unable to assess the effectiveness of the investigation in the absence of domestic provisions for free legal assistance to victims of enforced disappearances.
301. As for the alleged failure to exhaust domestic remedies, all the applicants, referring to the Court’s case-law, submitted that they were not obliged to pursue civil remedies and that lodging complaints against the investigators under Article 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code would not have remedied the investigation’s shortcomings. They all submitted that the only effective remedy in their cases — the criminal investigation into the abduction of their relatives — had proved to be ineffective.

B. The Court’s assessment

1. Compliance with the six-month rule

(a) General principles
302. The Court will examine the arguments of the parties in the light of the provisions of the Convention and its relevant practice (see Estamirov and Others v. Russia, No. 60272/00, §§ 73 — 74, 12 October 2006).
303. As to the Government’s argument concerning the applicants’ failure to comply with the six-month time-limit, the Court notes that the time-limit implies that the applicants should have brought their applications to the Court within six months of the final domestic decisions or within six months of the time when they became aware of the ineffectiveness of the domestic remedies (see, for example, Varnava, cited above, § 157). The Court notes that the Government acknowledged the absence of a particular date or decision which could serve as a trigger for the calculation of the time-limit. Furthermore, they argued that the applicants’ complaints were premature as the criminal investigations were still in progress.
304. The Court reiterates that the purpose of the six-month rule is to promote security of law, to ensure that cases are dealt with within a reasonable time and to protect the parties from uncertainty for a prolonged period of time. The rule also provides the opportunity to ascertain the facts of the case before memory of them fades away with time (see Abuyeva and Others v. Russia, No. 27065/05, § 175, 2 December 2010).
305. Normally, the six-month period runs from the final decision in the process of exhaustion of domestic remedies. In its absence, the period runs from the date of the acts or measures complained of. Where an applicant avails himself of an existing remedy and only subsequently becomes aware of circumstances which render the remedy ineffective, the six-month time-limit is calculated from the date when the applicant first became, or ought to have become, aware of those circumstances (see, among others, Zenin v. Russia (dec.), No. 15413/03, 24 September 2009).
306. In cases concerning disappearances, unlike in cases concerning ongoing investigations into the deaths of applicants’ relatives (see, for example, Elsanova v. Russia (dec.) No. 57952/00, 15 November 2005; and Narin v. Turkey, No. 18907/02, § 50, 15 December 2009), the Court has held that taking into account the uncertainty and confusion typical of such situations, the nature of the ensuing investigations implies that the relatives of a disappeared person may be justified in waiting lengthy periods of time for the national authorities to conclude their proceedings, even if the latter are sporadic and plagued by problems. However, where more than ten years has elapsed since the incident, the applicants have to justify the delay in lodging their application with the Court (see Varnava, cited above, §§ 162 — 63).
307. Applying the Varnava principles, the Court recently found in the case of Er and Others v. Turkey (No. 23016/04, §§ 55 — 58, 31 July 2012) that the applicants, who had waited for a period of almost ten years after the disappearance of their relative before lodging their application, had complied with the six-month rule because an investigation was being conducted at the national level. The Court reached a similar conclusion in another case, where the domestic investigation into the events had been pending for more than eight years and where the applicants were doing all that could be expected of them to assist the authorities (see and Others v. Turkey, No. 24589/04, § 49, 26 February 2013).
308. By contrast, the Court has declared inadmissible applications where the applicants waited for more than ten years to lodge their applications with the Court, and where there had been, for a long time, no elements allowing them to believe that the investigation would be effective. For instance, in the case of and Others v. Turkey ((dec.), No. 21099/06, 10 July 2012), the applicants waited for four years after the disappearance before lodging an official complaint with the competent investigating authorities and for eleven and a half years before bringing their application to Strasbourg; in the case of Findik and Omer v. Turkey ((decs.), Nos. 33898/11 and 35798/11, 9 October 2012), the applications were brought to Strasbourg more than fifteen years after the events; and in the case of and Duman v. Turkey ((dec.), No. 40787/10, 9 October 2012), the applicants applied to Strasbourg twenty-three years after the disapperance. In those cases, as in the case of v. Turkey (No. 7050/05, §§ 41 — 42, 1 February 2011), where the applicants complained to Strasbourg more than twelve years after the disapperance, the Court rejected as out of time their complaints under Article 2 of the Convention for failure to demonstrate any concrete advance in the domestic investigation to justify their delay of more than ten years.
(b) Application of the principles to the present case
309. Turning to the circumstances of each of the applications at hand, the Court notes that the criminal investigation in each application was pending when the applicants lodged their complaints with the Court. Further, the Court notes that in three of the applications — that is, Gakayeva (No. 51534/08), Yesiyeva and Others (No. 4401/10) and Arzhiyeva (No. 33175/10) — the applicants complained to the authorities shortly after the abductions and introduced their applications with the Court within periods ranging from five to about seven years after the events. From the documents submitted it appears that they maintained contact with the authorities by providing the investigators with eyewitness evidence, requesting information and asking for permission to access the investigation files.
310. As for the other seven applications, in which the applicants applied to Strasbourg after a longer period of time, ranging from the beginning of the domestic investigation to eight to ten years after the events, the Court notes the following. In Alimkhanova and Others (application No. 25518/10) the applicants complained of their relatives’ arrest within several days of the incident, in January 2001. In April 2004, the first and second applicants gave witness statements to the investigation and the first applicant was granted victim status. Shortly afterwards, the investigation was suspended but the applicants were informed neither of that suspension nor of the subsequent one in December 2004. They did not learn of the suspension of the investigation until February 2007 and requested that it be resumed. In May 2008 they were informed that the investigation had again been suspended but that operational search measures were being carried out to have the crime resolved. On 5 April 2010, nine years and two months after the abduction, the applicants lodged their application with the Court.
311. In Magamadova (application No. 28779/10) the applicant’s son was abducted in December 2000; the applicant lodged an official complaint with the domestic authorities within several weeks and her application with the Court in April 2010, that is, nine years and four months later. From the documents submitted it transpires that between 30 November 2001 and 19 November 2009 — for eight years — no investigative steps were taken in the criminal case and the proceedings were suspended but the applicant was not informed thereof. Moreover, on two occasisons — in December 2006 and February 2007 — the investigating authorities informed the applicant that their search for her son was in progress (see paragraph 127 above). Only on 19 November 2009 was she informed for the first time of the suspension of the criminal proceedings (see paragraph 129 above).
312. In Elikhanova (application No. 47393/10) the applicant complained of her son’s abduction to the authorities at least three weeks after the events in December 2001 and introduced her application with the Court eight years and nine months later, in August 2010. From the documents submitted it transpires that between August 2005 and January 2010 no investigative steps were taken in the criminal case, until in February 2010 the applicant requested permission to access the investigation file and was allowed to familiarise herself with its contents in March 2010 (see paragraph 189 above).
313. In Temiraliyeva and Others (application No. 54753/10), the applicants complained of their relative’s abduction several weeks after the events, in August 2002; they lodged their application with the Court eight years and two months after the events, in September 2010. In April 2003, the first applicant gave her witness statement to the authorities and was granted victim status in the criminal case. From the documents submitted it appears that in August 2006 the investigation was instructed to take a number of steps, that subsequently it was suspended in October 2006 (see paragraph 215 above) and that the applicants were not informed of the suspensions of the criminal proceedings.
314. In Payzulayeva and Others (application No. 58131/10) the applicants complained of their relatives’ abduction in April 2001, within a few days of the incident. They lodged their application with the Court almost nine and half years after the events, in September 2010, and five years after the beginning of the criminal investigation, which was not initiated until more than four years after the events, in September 2005 (see paragraph 230 above). From the documents submitted it appears that the applicants maintained reasonable contact with the authorities by providing them with witness statements, asking to be granted victim status in the criminal case and requesting information on the progress of the proceedings.
315. In Vakhidova (application No. 62207/10) the applicant lodged an official complaint of her son’s abduction within a month and a half of the incident, in August 2000. She lodged her application with the Court about ten years later, in October 2010. From the documents submitted it appears that in March 2001 the applicant was granted victim status and questioned by the investigators. Between September 2002 and June 2009 the investigation was suspended; during that period her information requests remained unanswered. She was not informed of the suspension of the proceedings until June 2009 (see paragraph 261 above). Following her complaint, the proceedings were resumed in June 2009 (see paragraph 262 above) and then suspended again in July 2009.
316. In Musayevy (application No. 73784/10) the applicants complained of their relative’s abduction shortly after the incident, in May 2001. They lodged their application with the Court nine and a half years later, in November 2010. From the documents submitted it appears that the applicants maintained contact with the authorities by providing them with witness statements, asking to be granted victim status in the criminal case and requesting information on the progress of the proceedings.
317. Having examined the applications of Alimkhanova and Others (No. 25518/10), Magamadova (No. 28779/10), Elikhanova (No. 47393/10), Temiraliyeva and Others (No. 54753/10), Payzulayeva and Others (No. 58131/10), Vakhidova (No. 62207/10) and Musayevy (No. 73784/10), the Court finds that the conduct of each of the applicants in respect of the investigation was determined not by their perception of the remedy as ineffective, but rather by their expectation that the authorities would, of their own motion, provide them with an adequate response in the face of their serious complaints. On their part, they furnished the investigating authorities with timely and sufficiently detailed accounts of their relatives’ abductions, assisted them with finding witnesses and other evidence, and fully cooperated in other ways. It was thus reasonable for them to expect further substantive developments from the investigations. It could not be said that they failed to show the requisite diligence by waiting for the pending investigations to yield results (see, by contrast, , cited above, §§ 41 — 42).
318. To sum-up, all of the applicants maintained reasonable contact with the authorities, cooperated with the investigation and, where appropriate, took steps to inform themselves of the progress of the proceedings and to speed them up, in the hopes of a more effective outcome.
319. The Court considers that investigations were being conducted, albeit sporadically, during the periods in question and that the applicants did all that could be expected of them to assist the authorities (see Varnava and Others, cited above, § 166, and Er and Others, cited above, § 60). In the light of the foregoing, the Court dismisses the Government’s objection as to the admissibility of these complaints based on the six-month time-limit.

2. Exhaustion of domestic remedies

320. As regards a civil action to obtain redress for damage sustained as a result of the alleged illegal acts or unlawful conduct of State agents, the Court has already found in a number of similar cases that this procedure alone cannot be regarded as an effective remedy in the context of claims brought under Article 2 of the Convention (see Khashiyev and Akayeva v. Russia, Nos. 57942/00 and 57945/00, §§ 119 — 21, 24 February 2005, and Estamirov and Others, cited above, § 77). Accordingly, the Court confirms that the applicants were not obliged to pursue civil remedies. The preliminary objection in this regard is thus dismissed.
321. As regards criminal-law remedies, the Court observes that in a recent judgment it concluded that the ineffective investigation of disappearances that occurred in Chechnya between 2000 and 2006 constitutes a systemic problem and that criminal investigations are not an effective remedy in this respect (see Aslakhanova and Others, cited above, § 217).
322. In such circumstances, and noting the absence over the years of tangible progress in any of the criminal investigations into the abductions of the applicants’ relatives, the Court concludes that this objection must be dismissed, since the remedy relied on by the Government was not effective in the circumstances.

III. The Court’s assessment of the evidence and the establishment of the facts

A. The parties’ submissions

1. The Government

323. The Government did not contest the essential facts of each application as presented by the applicants. At the same time, they claimed that none of the investigations had obtained information proving that the applicants’ relatives had been apprehended and detained by State agents. According to them, there was no evidence proving beyond reasonable doubt that State agents had been involved in the abductions and deaths. The mere fact that the abductors had been armed and/or had driven a certain type of vehicle was not enough to presume the contrary.

2. The applicants

324. The applicants submitted that it had been established «beyond reasonable doubt» that the men who had taken away their relatives had been State agents. In support of that assertion they referred to the ample evidence contained in their submissions and the criminal investigation files, in so far as they had been disclosed by the Government. They also submitted that they had each made a prima facie case that their relatives had been abducted by State agents and that the essential facts underlying their complaints had not been challenged by the Government. In view of the absence of any news of their relatives for a long time and the life-threatening nature of unacknowledged detention in Chechnya at the relevant time, they asked the Court to consider their relatives dead.

B. General principles

325. The Court will examine each of the applications in the light of the general principles applicable in cases where the factual circumstances are in dispute between the parties (see El Masri v. «the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia» [GC], No. 39630/09, §§ 151 — 53, ECHR-2012).
326. The Court has addressed a whole series of cases concerning allegations of disappearances in the Chechen Republic. Applying the above-mentioned principles, it has concluded that it would be sufficient for the applicants to make a prima facie case of abduction by servicemen, thus falling within the control of the authorities, and it would then be for the Government to discharge their burden of proof either by disclosing the documents in their exclusive possession or by providing a satisfactory and convincing explanation of how the events in question occurred (see, among many examples, Kosumova and Others v. Russia, No. 27441/07, § 67, 7 June 2011, and Aslakhanova and Others, cited above, § 99). If the Government failed to rebut that presumption, this would entail a violation of Article 2 in its substantive part. Conversely, where the applicants failed to make a prima facie case, the burden of proof could not be reversed (see, for example, Tovsultanova v. Russia, No. 26974/06, §§ 77 — 81, 17 June 2010; Movsayevy v. Russia, No. 20303/07, § 76, 14 June 2011; and Shafiyeva v. Russia, No. 49379/09, § 71, 3 May 2012).
327. The Court has also found in many cases concerning disappearances in Chechnya that a missing person could be presumed dead. Having regard to the numerous cases of disappearances in the region which have come before it, the Court has found that in the particular context of the conflict, when a person was detained by unidentified State agents without any subsequent acknowledgment of the detention, this could be regarded as life-threatening (see, among many others, Bazorkina v. Russia, No. 69481/01, 27 July 2006; Imakayeva v. Russia, No. 7615/02, ECHR 2006-XIII (extracts); Luluyev and Others v. Russia, No. 69480/01, ECHR 2006-VIII (extracts); Baysayeva v. Russia, No. 74237/01, 5 April 2007; Akhmadova and Sadulayeva v. Russia, No. 40464/02, 10 May 2007; Alikhadzhiyeva v. Russia, No. 68007/01, 5 July 2007; and Dubayev and Bersnukayeva v. Russia, Nos. 30613/05 and 30615/05, 11 February 2010).
328. The Court has made findings of presumptions of deaths in the absence of any reliable news about the disappeared persons for periods ranging from four years (see Askhabova v. Russia, No. 54765/09, § 137, 18 April 2013) to more than ten years.

C. Application of the principles to the present case

1. Application No. 51534/08, Gakayeva v. Russia

329. Several witness statements collected by the applicant, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 17 and 28 above) demonstrate that the applicant’s son, Timerlan Soltakhanov, was abducted on 7 June 2003 by a group of armed servicemen in Shali. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicant has presented a prima facie case that her son was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by her.
330. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
331. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Timerlan Soltakhanov was taken into custody by State agents on 7 June 2003. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Timerlan Soltakhanov may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

2. Application No. 4401/10, Yesiyeva and Others v. Russia

332. Several witness statements collected by the applicants, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 49, 51, 54 and 55 above) demonstrate that the applicants’ relative, Adam Yesiyev, was abducted on 19 September 2002 by a group of armed servicemen in Urus-Martan. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicants have presented a prima facie case that their relative was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by them.
333. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
334. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Adam Yesiyev was taken into custody by State agents on 19 September 2002 in Urus-Martan. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Adam Yesiyev may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

3. Application No. 25518/10, Alimkhanova and Others v. Russia

335. A number of witness statements collected by the applicants, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 79 and 81 above) demonstrate that the applicants’ relatives, Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov, were abducted on 26 January 2001 by a group of armed servicemen during a special operation in Komsomolskoye. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicants have presented a prima facie case that their relatives were abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by them.
336. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
337. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Khamzat Alimkhanov and Sulim Khatulov were taken into custody by State agents on 26 January 2001. In view of the absence of any news of them since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that the applicants’ relatives may be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention.

4. Application No. 28779/10, Magamadova v. Russia

338. Several witness statements collected by the applicant, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 118 and 120 above) demonstrate that the applicant’s son, Akhmed Gazuyev, was abducted on 25 December 2000 by a group of armed servicemen during a security operation in Urus-Martan. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicant has presented a prima facie case that her son was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by her.
339. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
340. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Akhmed Gazuyev was taken into custody by State agents on 25 December 2000 in Urus-Martan. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Akhmed Gazuyev may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

5. Application No. 33175/10, Arzhiyeva v. Russia

341. From the documents submitted it appears that the applicant did not witness her sons’ abduction on 3 May 2005 and that there were no direct witnesses to the incident. In addition, it does not appear that the applicant’s allegation that following her sons’ disappearance she saw them on the premises of the military unit was brought to the attention of the domestic authorities. At the same time the documents submitted demonstrate that from the outset the applicant and the numerous witnesses questioned by the investigation consistently alleged the involvement of military servicemen in the abduction (see, for example, paragraphs 146, 149, 151, 152 and 154 above) and that the applicant’s version of the events was the only one pursued by the investigating authorities (see paragraphs 162 and 163 above). In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicant has presented a prima facie case that her sons were abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by her.
342. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
343. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Usman and Valid Arzhiyev were taken into custody by State agents on 3 May 2005 near Avtury. In view of the absence of any news of them since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Usman and Valid Arzhiyev may be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention.

6. Application No. 47393/10, Elikhanova v. Russia

344. Several witness statements collected by the applicant, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 177 and 179 above) demonstrate that the applicant’s son, Khavazhi Elikhanov, was abducted on 4 November 2001 by a group of armed servicemen during a security operation in Urus-Martan. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicant has presented a prima facie case that her son was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by her.
345. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
346. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Khavazhi Elikhanov was taken into custody by State agents on 4 November 2001 in Urus-Martan. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Khavazhi Elikhanov may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

7. Application No. 54753/10, Temiraliyeva and Others v. Russia

347. Several witness statements collected by the applicants, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 203, 206 and 208 above) demonstrate that the applicants’ relative, Aslan Dzhamalov, was abducted on 9 July 2002 by a group of armed servicemen in Grozny. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicants have presented a prima facie case that their relative was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by them.
348. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
349. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Aslan Dzhamalov was taken into custody by State agents on 9 July 2002 in Grozny. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Aslan Dzhamalov may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

8. Application No. 58131/10, Payzulayeva and Others v. Russia

350. A number of witness statements collected by the applicants, along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 231, 232 and 233 above) demonstrate that the applicants’ relatives, Magomed Cherkasov and Ayub Istamulov, were abducted on 30 April 2001 by a group of armed servicemen near Verkhniy Noyber. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicants have presented a prima facie case that their relatives were abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by them.
351. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
352. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Magomed Cherkasov and Ayub Istamulov were taken into custody by State agents on 30 April 2001. In view of the absence of any news of them since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that the applicants’ relatives may be presumed dead following their unacknowledged detention.

9. Application No. 62207/10, Vakhidova v. Russia

353. Several witness statements collected by the applicant along with the documents from the investigation file furnished by the Government (see, for example, paragraphs 246 and 256 above) demonstrate that the applicant’s son, Musa Vakhidov, was abducted on 22 June 2000 by a group of armed servicemen in Chernorechye. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicant has presented a prima facie case that her son was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by her.
354. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
355. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Musa Vakhidov was taken into custody by State agents on 22 June 2000 in Chernorechye in the Grozny district. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Musa Vakhidov may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

10. Application No. 73784/10, Musayevy v. Russia

356. Several witness statements collected by the applicants, along with copies of documents from the investigation file furnished by them (see, for example, paragraphs 269, 279, 280 and 288 above) demonstrate that the applicants’ relative, Robert Musayev, was abducted on 8 May 2001 by a group of armed servicemen in Dachu-Borzoy. In view of all the materials in its possession, the Court finds that the applicants have presented a prima facie case that their relative was abducted by State agents in the circumstances as set out by them.
357. The Government did not provide a satisfactory and convincing explanation for the events in question. Therefore, they failed to discharge their burden of proof.
358. Bearing in mind the general principles enumerated above, the Court finds that Robert Musayev was taken into custody by State agents on 8 May 2001 in Dachu-Borzoy. In view of the absence of any news of him since that date and the life-threatening nature of such detention (see paragraph 327 above), the Court also finds that Robert Musayev may be presumed dead following his unacknowledged detention.

D. Conclusions

359. The Court finds that in all cases the applicants’ relatives were abducted by armed men in uniforms, displaying behaviour characteristic of security operations. Their behaviour and appearance, their ability to pass through roadblocks and to cordon off areas, along with their use of vehicles, in all probability, lead the Court to conclude that they could be none other than State servicemen. The applicants’ allegations are supported by the witness statements collected by them and by the investigations. In their submissions to the authorities the applicants consistently maintained that their relatives had been abducted by State agents. The domestic investigations accepted as fact the version of events as presented by the applicants and took steps to check whether State servicemen had been involved in the abductions. As it appears from the documents, the investigations regarded the possibility of abduction by servicemen as the only, or at least the main, plausible explanation of the events.
360. In summary, the facts of all the applications contain sufficient elements to enable the Court to make findings about the carrying out of security operations and thus about the State’s exclusive control over the detainees (see, among many others, Aslakhanova and Others, cited above, § 114). The Government’s arguments are limited to references to the unfinished criminal investigations, or are of a speculative nature and stand in contradiction to the evidence reviewed by the Court. In any case, they are insufficient to discharge them of the burden of proof which has been shifted to them in such cases.
361. The detention in life-threatening circumstances of Timerlan Soltakhanov, Aldam Yesiyev, Khamzat Alimkhanov, Sulim Khatulov, Akhmed Gazuyev, Usman Arzhiyev, Valid Arzhiyev, Khavazhi Elikhanov, Aslan Dzhamalov, Magomed Cherkasov, Ayub Istamulov, Musa Vakhidov and Robert Musayev, together with the long absence of any news of them, lead the Court to conclude that they may be presumed dead.

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