Andrey Rylkov Foundation
for Health and Social Justice

Denis Matveev should be released and accorded a right to compensation for damage

By Michail Golichenko

Denis Matveev should be released and accorded a right to compensation for damage – this is an opinion by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council on the results of a two-year review and subsequent communication with Russia in the case of Denis Matveev.

About the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The Working Group was established in 1991. Currently, the Group comprises five international lawyers: Chairman of the Group Mr. Malik Sow, Supreme Court Justice of Senegal; Vice-Chairman Mrs. Shaheen Ali, Professor of Law at the University of Warwick, UK; Mr. Vladimir Tochilovsky, law professor from Ukraine with experience as the Prosecutor of the International Court of Yugoslavia, the district prosecutor and deputy prosecutor in Ukraine; Mr. Roberto Garretón, a lawyer and human rights activist from Chile, with experience in various positions in UN human rights bodies and other international organizations; Mr. Mads Andenas, Professor of Law, University of Oslo, Norway.

Since the Group considers cases collectively based on adversarial principle and is composed of lawyers of the highest caliber, the European Court of Human Rights recognizes the Group as an effective means of international investigation (ECHR decision of 7 April 2009 on the complaint Peraldi vs France, No. 2096/05).

On Denis Matveev’s case

Denis Matveev is a human rights activist from the city of Naberezhnye Chelny in Tatarstan who in 2008-2009 conducted a number of successful campaigns against the corruption in the law enforcement agencies and city hall of Naberezhnye Chelny. After several threats that he would be planted with drugs, Denis was arrested in July 2009 and was never released since then. In the spring of 2010, the Court of Naberezhnye Chelny sentenced Denis to 7 years in jail. Despite blatant violations of the criminal proceedings, the higher courts upheld the District court judgment. In August 2011, with the support of the Andrew Rylkov Foundation and the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Denis submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

Complexity of the case

Cases involving drugs carry a specific stigma that sticks to the accused, especially if a charge is for drug dealing. Denis was accused not just for distribution but for a large-scale distribution by a group with a prior agreement. The Federal Drug Control Service and the police presented documents about three drug test purchases from Denis. The confirmation was also provided that in the past Denis used drugs and underwent drug treatment. If one does not go into the details, this would seem enough to start doubting the innocence of the accused. Ordinary people and many judges would think: “What kind of fabrication may be involved if the person is a drug addict (and there are no former drug addicts), and three drug test purchases had been conducted on him? Have all three times been a provocation? Set up? It does not happen. Guilty!” That’s why it was so hard for Denis and his lawyer to defend his position in the court. Many human rights activists didn’t believe either that Denis was innocent. “He received too little”, that was a short comment from one of the famous Russian lawyers after Denis was sentenced to 7 years in prison. It was hard to argue with the skeptics. The stigma of drug cases is very high.

Evidence in support of Matveev

A careful study of the case documents enables one to identify that all the evidence against Matveev was obtained from the three drug test purchases. But the fact of the Matveev’s selling the drugs or receiving the money was not recorded. Evidently, the drug enforcement agents just came to their office one day and said, “These are the drugs I bought from Matveev.” Matveev’s conversation with the agents was photographed from a distance of 100 meters, it was impossible to see in the picture a transfer of anything. In connection with his work in a needle exchange program, Matveev knew the drug enforcement agents who were drug users. So, these charges could be built up against any outreach worker who deals with drug users. First one need to shoot a picture of a conversation from a distance of 100 meters and then a drug user submits drugs that he allegedly purchased from the defendant. Matveev’s case had also evidence that one of the main witnesses for the police agreed to cooperate with the police while in custody in a strong drug withdrawal syndrome (which can be considered as if he was under torture). Drug mixtures seized in the case, contained just a few tenths of a percent of the drug itself. In the court, a visiting drug treatment doctor pointed out that such a mixture cannot have a narcotic effect on the human body. Despite all this, Matveev received 7 years of jail.

What the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has established

After careful consideration of Matveev’s complaint and a response from the Russian Federation, the Working Group found that by all indications, law enforcement agencies conducted several police provocations against Denis Matveev which the courts of the Russian Federation did not pay enough attention to. Besides, the courts of the Russian Federation did not give adequate consideration to the fact that the heroin allegedly belonging to Denis Matveev was seized from his shorts’ pocket with huge holes. Additionally, the court deprived Denis Matveev of possibility to present his defense witnesses whose evidence would refute the prosecution’s case and support Matveev’s claim that the provocations against him were related to his human rights work. Based on this, the Working Group concluded that the arrest and subsequent conviction of Matveev were in violation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The full text of the opinion of the group in the case of Denis Matveev is available here.

What next

We will seek the release of Denis Matveev by appealing to the Supreme Court by analogy to cases in which the European Court of Human Rights made decisions. According to the Penal Code of the Russian Federation, the decision of the European Court of Human Rights on a case is considered a newly discovered fact which can serve basis for a retrial. The European Court of Human Rights considers the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention as effective as itself. The difference between the European Court of Human Rights and the Working Group is that the European Court is a Convention’s body, and the Working Group was established by a resolution of the UN Council on Human Rights, whose mandate is basically based on the Charter of the United Nations – the most significant international treaty on the planet. On this basis, we will try to convince the Supreme Court to initiate a review of the case.

What is the role of this opinion on Denis Matveev’s case

For Denis, the Working Group’s opinion is an important proof that he is not guilty. This is a decision in his support. His family, friends, and colleagues should know that Denis Matveev is not a drug dealer but a victim of repression against human rights activists. This is important even though Denis is still in custody.

For the lawyers, the Working Group’s opinion on Denis Matveev’s case is significant because it demonstrates the unity of the fundamental approach of the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations to the issue of police provocations.

For human rights activists broadly, Denis Matveev’s case is another proof that they should never surrender. Even if leading figures give up on you with words like “You got too a little,” you should believe in yourself and in those who support you. Justice will prevail!

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