EUROPEAN COURT OF HUMAN RIGHTS
CASE OF SERGEY VASILYEV v. RUSSIA
(Application No. 33023/07)
<*> This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.
In the case of Sergey Vasilyev v. Russia,
The European Court of Human Rights (First Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:
Isabelle , President,
Mirjana Lazarova Trajkovska,
Dmitry Dedov, judges,
and Wampach, Deputy Section Registrar,
Having deliberated in private on 24 September 2013,
Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:
1. The case originated in an application (No. 33023/07) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms («the Convention») by a Russian national, Mr Sergey Mikhaylovich Vasilyev («the applicant»), on 29 June 2007.
2. The Russian Government («the Government») were represented by Mr G. Matyushkin, Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.
3. The applicant alleged, in particular, that he had been detained in appalling conditions and for an unreasonably long time while the criminal proceedings against him were pending; and that he had been unable to exercise his right to correspond with the Court without hindrance.
4. On 29 May 2010 the application was communicated to the Government. It was also decided to rule on the admissibility and merits of the application at the same time (Article 29 § 1).
The circumstances of the case
5. The applicant was born in 1976 and is serving a prison sentence in Yemva, Komi Republic.
A. Criminal proceedings against the applicant
6. On 1 July 2005 the police found N.’s body in the basement of an abandoned church. In the course of their investigation, it was established that on that date N. had been seen in the company of the applicant and two women, K. and S. All of them were questioned and denied having been involved with N.’s murder.
7. On 3 October 2005 the police again questioned K., who indicated that the applicant had murdered N.
8. On 11 October 2005 the police arrested the applicant. He claimed to have been beaten up during his arrest. He was brought to the police station where, according to the applicant, the policemen involved in his arrest continued torturing him to make him confess to N.’s murder. On the same date the applicant was brought to the prosecutor’s office, where investigator B. questioned him at 7:40 p.m. According to the transcript of the questioning session, lawyer Sh. was present and assisted the applicant. The applicant first refused to give a statement, then he confessed that he had got into a fight with N. in the church and left him there. The applicant was taken to the Kostroma temporary detention centre. He was examined by a doctor who did not see any injuries on him. Nor did the applicant complain of ill-treatment during his arrest or while in police custody.
9. On 13 October 2005 the Kostroma Sverdlovskiy District Court authorised the applicant’s pre-trial detention. In particular, the court noted as follows:
«The court has established that [the applicant] is charged with a particularly serious offence which entails a mandatory custodial sentence in the event of a guilty verdict. The court therefore considers that, if released, [the applicant] may abscond… [H]aving regard to the [applicant’s] previous administrative [offence] and criminal record, the court considers it possible that, if released, he may continue his criminal activity and put pressure on witnesses or interfere with the establishment of the truth.»
10. On 20 October 2005 the applicant was indicted on the charge of manslaughter. According to the records of the indictment, lawyer Sh. was present and assisted the applicant. According to the applicant’s submissions, Sh. appeared only for the questioning session that followed the indictment being brought forth.
11. On 8 and 30 December 2005 the District Court extended the applicant’s detention until 3 January and 3 March 2006 respectively. The court reiterated almost verbatim its reasoning of 13 October 2005.
12. On 7 February 2006 investigator Kir. reclassified the charges against the applicant and indicted him with one count of murder, along with robbery and making death threats to K. and S.
13. On 27 February 2006 the District Court extended the applicant’s detention until 3 April 2006. The court noted that the applicant was charged with two particularly serious offences and again referred to the same reasons for his detention as previously given: (1) the risk of the applicant’s absconding; (2) the possible continuation of his criminal activity; and (3) the potential for him to interfere with the administration of justice, including, but not limited to putting pressure on witnesses and the victims of some of the offences charged.
14. On 20 April 2006 investigator Kir. again reclassified the charges against the applicant by substituting robbery with theft.
15. On 21 April 2006 the District Court extended the applicant’s detention until 22 May 2006. In its reasoning, the court noted as follows:
«The court has established that [the applicant] is charged with a particularly serious offence involving violence against the person… which entails a mandatory custodial sentence; that he has a previous criminal and administrative [offence] record; that he is unemployed; and that he does not live at his registered place of residence. The court considers that there are sufficient reasons to believe that, if released, [the applicant] might abscond, continue criminal activities, interfere with the establishment of the truth by putting pressure on witnesses or victims or otherwise interfere with the administration of justice.»
16. On 24 October 2006 the District Court extended the applicant’s detention until 24 December 2006, referring to the gravity of the charges against him. The applicant appealed, asking the court to release him on an undertaking not to leave town.
17. On 30 November 2006 the Kostroma Regional Court upheld the decision of 24 October 2006 on appeal, ordering that the applicant’s detention be extended until 21 December 2006. The court reviewed the applicant’s arguments concerning the alleged unlawfulness of the entire period of his detention and that there had been a lack of relevant and sufficient reasons for its extension and dismissed them. The court held the hearing in the absence of the applicant’s counsel.
18. On 14 December 2006 the District Court, referring to the gravity of the charges against the applicant, extended his detention until 27 March 2007. Lawyer R. represented the applicant during the hearing.
19. On 7 February 2007 the District Court found the applicant guilty of murder and sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment. He was acquitted of the charges of theft and making death threats.
20. On 29 March 2007 the Regional Court upheld the applicant’s conviction on appeal.
B. Conditions of the applicant’s detention
1. Temporary detention centre in Kostroma
21. From 11 to 21 October 2005 the applicant was held at the temporary detention centre in Kostroma.
22. The Government’s submissions as regards the conditions of the applicant’s detention in the temporary detention centre can be summarised as follows:
Period of detention Cell No. Surface area (in square metres) Number of inmates Number of sleeping places
From 11 to 12 October 2005 13 12.10 3 4
From 13 to 15 October 2005 4 5.76 3 3
From 16 to 21 October 2005 5 6.37 2 2
23. The cells were equipped with a ventilation system in good working order. The windows in the cells were covered with metal bars on the outside and a metal mesh on the inside. The cells were all lit with 100-watt electric bulbs. Only cell No. 13 was equipped with a toilet, which was located some 1.55 metres away from the dining table and 2.90 metres away from the closest sleeping place. The toilet was separated from the living area of the cell with an eighty-six-centimetre high partition. The inmates detained in cells Nos. 4 and 5 were allowed to use the toilet located outside the cells three times a day. In cells Nos. 4 and 5 there were no individual beds. The applicant was allowed one hour of daily exercise in a yard adjacent to the temporary detention centre.
24. The applicant provided the following information on the conditions of his detention there.
Period of detention Cell No. Surface area (in square metres) Number of inmates
From 11 October to 12 October 2005 13 8 3
From 12 to 14 October 2005 5 5 3
From 14 to 15 October 2005 10 4 2
From 15 to 21 October 2005 4 5 2
25. In all the cells the windows were covered with metal shutters and provided no access to natural light. The electric light, which was dim and provided insufficient lighting, was constantly on. During their detention in cells Nos. 4 and 5, which were not equipped with a toilet, the inmates had to use a plastic bucket kept in the corner of the cell in plain view of other detainees present in the cell. The inmates were only allowed to empty the bucket once a day. There was no sink. The inmates did not receive bed linen or blankets. In cells Nos. 4 and 5 there were no mattresses or pillows. The inmates were confined to the cell twenty-four hours a day without any opportunity for outdoor exercise.
2. Remand prison No. IZ-44/1 in Kostroma
26. From 21 October 2005 to 3 April 2007 the applicant was held at remand prison No. IZ-44/1 in Kostroma.
(a) The description provided by the Government
27. The Government’s submissions as regards the remand prison population can be summarised as follows:
Period of detention Cell No. Surface area (in square metres) Number of inmates Number of beds
From 21 to 24 October 2005 4 12.4 No more than 3 6
From 24 October to 10 February 2006 53 37.1 No more than 9 12
From 10 to 16 February 2006 29 12.15 No more than 3 8
From 16 February to 14 April 2006 23 8.97 No more than 2 8
From 14 to 25 April 2006 25 28.1 No more than 7 14
From 25 April to 22 September 2006 23 8.97 No more than 2 8
From 22 to 28 September 2006 36 32.8 No more than 8 12
From 28 September to 2 October 2006 1 11.1 No more than 4 4
From 2 October 2006 to 7 February 2007 23 8.97 No more than 2 8
From 7 to 22 February 2007 25 28.1 No more than 7 14
From 28 March to 3 April 2007 25 28.1 No more than 7 14
28. At all times the applicant had an individual sleeping place, bed sheets, a mattress, a pillow, a blanket and towels. He was also provided with a mug, a spoon and a bowl.
29. Each cell had one or two windows, which ensured adequate access to natural light. The windows were covered with metal bars with openings measuring 7 centimetres by 20 centimetres. The ventilation system installed in the cells was in good working order. The electric lighting was constantly on. From 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. the cells were lit with a 40-watt bulb.
30. The toilet in each cell was separated from the living area with one-metre high brick walls and a wooden door. The distance between the toilet and the nearest bed and a dining table was at least 2 metres. The cells were disinfected and cleaned on a regular basis. The inmates could practice outdoor exercise in specially designated yards.
(b) The description provided by the applicant
31. The applicant provided the following information on the conditions of his detention there.
Period of detention Cell No. Surface area (in square metres) Number of inmates Number of beds
From 21 to 24 October 2005 4 12 10 — 27 6
From 24 October 2005 to February 2006 53 24 10 — 12 12
Seven days in February 2006 29 12 16 8
From February to April 2006 23 12 5 — 16 8
Seven days in April 2006 25 30 7 — 24 14
From April to August 2006 23 (see above)
Five days in August 2006 36 20 10 10
Three days in August 2006 1 8 9 4
From August 2006 to February 2007 23 (see above)
From 7 to 21 February 2007 25 (see above)
From 26 March to 3 April 2007 25 (see above)
32. The number of beds was insufficient and the inmates had to take turns to sleep. The ventilation was not in working order. It was stiflingly hot in the summer and very cold in the winter. The cells were dimly lit. The walls were covered with mould. The cells were infested with mice, rats, lice, spiders and cockroaches. The administration of the remand prison took no measures to exterminate them. The toilet was only separated from the living area of the cell in cells Nos. 23 and 53. In those cells, however, a person using the toilet could be seen by guards through a peephole in the door. The guards in the remand prison were mostly female. In cell No. 25 the toilet was located a mere fifty centimetres away from the nearest sleeping place. The applicant received one set of bed linen. The sheets and pillow cases were torn and had holes. The food was of a low quality. The inmates were allowed to take a shower once a week. The shower room was dirty and the water smelled. Outdoor exercise was allowed for 10 to 40 minutes a day.
(c) Domestic litigation concerning the conditions of the applicant’s detention
33. On an unspecified date the applicant brought a civil action for damages caused by his detention in appalling conditions in the remand prison during the following periods: (1) from 21 October 2005 to 22 February 2007, (2) from 28 March to 3 April 2007, (3) July — August 2007, (4) October 2007, (5) from 24 December 2008 to 23 January 2009 and (6) from 25 February to 3 March 2009.
34. In written submissions before the court the applicant argued that he had been detained in the remand prison in overcrowded cells, where the personal space afforded to him had been as low as 0.45 square metres. He had not been provided with an individual sleeping place. The ventilation system had been out of order. The cells had been poorly lit. The toilet had not been separated from the living area of the cell and had offered no privacy. It had been very cold in the cells in the winter and very hot in the summer. The bed sheets had been of poor quality and had never been replaced. The food had been of poor quality and inedible.
35. The administration of the remand prison did not dispute the applicant’s allegations as regards the overcrowding of the cells. They explained that the population of the remand prison had constantly exceeded its designed capacity. The statutory standard of 4 square metres per inmate had not been met. Nor had the applicant been provided with an individual bed.
36. On 10 September 2009 the Kostroma Sverdlovskiy District Court granted the applicant’s claims in part concerning the overcrowding of the remand prison and awarded him 20,000 Russian roubles (RUB) in compensation for non-pecuniary damage. The judgment stated as follows:
«As is evident from the materials in the case-file, [the applicant] was detained for a lengthy period in [the remand prison] pending criminal proceedings against him which ended with a guilty verdict. According to the cell records submitted by the [administration of the remand prison], the applicant was detained in cells No. 25, 22, 23, 17, and 46. The court does not lose sight of the fact that the [administration of the remand prison] failed to submit the complete cell records…
As is clear from the cell surface plan…, cell No. 25 measured 13.6 square metres, cell No. 22 measured 14.1 square metres, [and] cell No. 17 measured 13.1 square metres. No information was submitted in respect of cell No. 46.
According to the certificate submitted by [the administration of the remand prison] (original records were not presented), the cell population of the remand prison in 2005 — 2007 was as follows: cell No. 25 housed from 9 to 19 inmates, cell No. 23 housed from 3 to 14 inmates, [and] cell No. 17 housed from 2 to 12 inmates. During the period from 26 March to 3 April 2007 cell No. 25 housed from 10 to 16 inmates; [the administration of the remand prison] submitted no information in respect of cell No. 22; [and] cell No. 17 housed from 8 to 9 inmates. From July to 15 August 2007 cell No. 25 housed from 6 to 13 inmates [and] cell No. 17 housed from 1 to 7 inmates. In October 2007 cell No. 25 housed from 11 to 21 inmates; cell No. 17 housed from 3 to 6 inmates; [and] cell No. 23 housed from 3 to 7 inmates. From 24 December 2008 to 23 January 2009, cell No. 23 housed from 6 to 7 inmates. From 25 February to 3 March 2009 cell No. 17 housed from 3 to 4 inmates.
Even though [the administration of the remand prison] failed to present data in respect of cells Nos. 22 and 46, the [statutory] standards regarding personal space of 4 square metres [per inmate] were not complied with. In such circumstances, the court accepts as proven that [the applicant] did not always have an opportunity to sleep during the prescribed time and that the toilet did not offer privacy as required by [the applicable legislation]. The said non-compliance with statutory standards caused him some discomfort and humiliation, i.e., physical and mental suffering. The court does not share the opinion proffered by the representative of the Ministry of Finance that such circumstances require special proof.
The [court] shares the opinion of the representative of the remand prison that the administration of the remand prison could not be held liable for the number of inmates detained [in the remand prison]. Such a number is not determined by the Federal Correctional Service. It depends on other factors. It has been proven that during the period of the [applicant’s] detention the design capacity of the remand prison was 298 inmates, while the actual prison population amounted to 353, 420, 382 and 341 inmates. [The court] takes into account the argument made by the representative of the remand prison that out of 80 remand prisons in the country there are only two that comply with the relevant requirements.»
37. On 13 January 2010 the Regional Court upheld the judgment of 10 September 2009 on appeal.
C. Investigation in response to the applicant’s allegations of ill-treatment
38. On an unspecified date the applicant brought a complaint alleging that the policemen involved in his arrest had severely beaten and tortured him during his arrest and ensuing detention at the temporary detention centre.
39. On 28 May 2007 an investigator at the Kostroma Town Prosecutor’s Office refused to open criminal proceedings against the alleged perpetrators. The applicant appealed.
40. On 31 July 2007 the District Court upheld the investigator’s decision. The court referred, inter alia, to the medical documents obtained from the temporary detention centre and statements made by the applicant, the alleged perpetrators and other witnesses. On 16 October 2007 the Regional Court upheld the decision of 31 July 2007 on appeal.
D. Correspondence with the Court
41. On 17 September 2007 the applicant asked the administration of correctional colony No. IK-7 where he was serving a prison sentence to dispatch an application form to the Court. The application form never reached the Court. The applicant’s attempts to obtain proof of postage from the colony administration, such as the dispatch date or the outgoing number of the letter enclosing the application form, were to no avail.