Spain has again been accused by several civil society actors of abusing pre-trial detention and applying detention conditions reserved for terrorists to people who have not been convicted of terrorism charges. Fair Trials, Human Rights Without Frontiers and a practising lawyer have filed submissions relating to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Spain’s human rights record which will take place in Geneva on 22 January 2020 – writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
Fair Trials: Misuse of terrorism charges
In its submission, Fair Trials highlighted a case in October 2016 of a fight between a group of young people ranging from 19 to 24 years old and two other men. The altercation occurred in a bar in the town of Alsasua, in Navarre. The youths that were involved were charged with terrorism by the authorities.
Fair Trials outlined the case as follows:
“In November 2016, 10 youths were arrested, and three were placed in pre-trial detention in different prisons in Madrid, 400 km away from their homes, under a special supervision and control regime by prison services (Ficheros de Internos de Especial Seguimiento)*. Their pre-trial detention lasted over one and a half years, from November 2016 until they were sentenced in June 2018. Whilst they were not convicted on terrorist charges, 8 young adults were ultimately convicted and given sentences varying from 2 to 13 years in prison because of aggravating factors including ‘ideological discrimination’.”
In summary, Fair Trials stated that:
“The overuse of pre-trial detention and lack of alternative measures remain systemic problems in Spain, which in some cases is further exacerbated by the misapplication of terrorism charges.
There have been no legislative or practical developments that would have any significant impact on the frequency with which pre-trial detention is applied in Spain since the last UPR, nor are there any future plans to introduce such legislation.”
Human Rights Without Frontiers: Abusive use of harsh pre-trial detention conditions officially reserved for terrorists and violent offenders
Last year, Human Rights Without Frontiers went to Las Palmas to investigate the case of the Kokorev family, who were all arrested in 2015.
Each spent more than 2 years in pre-trial detention, until released without bail and ordered confinement to the island of Gran Canaria sine die pending trial. For most of this time (18 months) their lawyers had no access to their case file under a controversial regime called “secreto de sumario” and they experienced particularly harsh prison conditions typically reserved for terrorists, terrorism suspects and violent criminals (Fichero de Internos de Especial Seguimiento, level 5 or FIES 5)*, even though Vladimir Kokorev (now 65), Yulia Maleeva (now 67) and Igor Kokorev (now 37) have never been accused of using or inciting violence.
In 2019, Human Rights Without Frontiers denounced these abuses in a report at the annual OSCE/ODIHR conference on human rights in Warsaw, at the UN in Geneva through written and oral declarations, as well as during the UPR pre-session.
In addition, the Spanish authorities have been accused of turning a blind eye to evidence of irregularities and possible wrongdoings by the police inspectors in charge of the investigation, up to and including attempts to fabricate evidence against the Kokorevs.
Their lawyers have also repeatedly denounced the lack of supervision by the investigating magistrate and the Canarian Court of Appeals (Audiencia Provincial de Las Palmas) of the investigators, which has resulted in judicial rubber-stamping of dubious police work. The Spanish judges have, in turn, flatly refused to examine the evidence against the police and to review their work until such time as the Kokorevs can be put on trial, which after 16 years of investigations is still nowhere in sight.
Vladimir Kokorev's son, Igor, has denounced in an interview that the Kokorev case is a classic miscarriage of justice and expressed concern for his father's worsening health, warning that he may not survive until the trial.
As of 2020, the Kokorevs’ lawyers have not received any evidence of the alleged criminal activity of their clients, nor have their clients been formally charged.
Scott Crosby of the Brussels Bar: Recommendations
Scott Crosby, avocat, filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights in 2019 regarding the Kokorev case. He also sent a submission in the context of Spain’s UPR regarding a number of cases related to Article 5 of the European Convention (the right to liberty and security of person) in which Spain was held to have violated the Convention. Additionally, he discussed a case where a Spanish citizen was detained for four years despite the absence of any evidence before he was declared innocent.
His recommendations to Spain through the UPR process are to:
- repeal the law on incommunicado detention;
- cease holding detainees without formal charges;
- make much more extensive use of alternatives to prison detention;
- cease using the FIES 5* classification for non-dangerous inmates;
- abolish the secreto de sumario regime;
- cease using pre-trial detention as a means of punishment;
- respect the presumption of innocence;
- and respect the special diligence obligation.
These recommendations clearly identify a number of serious shortcomings in Spain’s justice system and are in line with complaints raised over the years by human rights NGOs in the international arena. Spain should comply without delay with its commitment to respect international, and European human rights standards.
(*) Author’s note: In 1996, Spain adopted a law introducing a special status and treatment for certain prisoners during their pre-trial detention. Known by the acronym FIES, which stands for The Register of Prisoners requiring Special Surveillance (Fichero de Internos de Especial Seguimiento), the system originally pursued a legitimate objective. Since then, however, the law has been misapplied and is now being imposed on non-violent and non-dangerous persons resulting in unfair detention conditions and extensive pre-trial detention periods. FIES 5 is the harshest level of detention conditions. It is meant for terrorists, terrorism suspects, war criminals and sex offenders.
EU-NGO Human Rights Forum: EU, civil society and business representatives discuss the impact of new technologies on human rights
On 9 and 10 December, the EU and the Human Rights Democracy Network organise the 22nd EU-NGO Human Rights Forum. The focus of this year's virtual forum is on the impact of new technologies on Human Rights in times of the coronavirus pandemic. On 9 December, High Representative/Vice-President for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, will open the plenary session.
A high-level panel will follow with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Eamon Gilmore, and International Federation for Human Rights President Alice Mogwe, among others. The EU, civil society, states and business enterprise stakeholders will discuss how the international community can seize the full potential of new technologies in fostering vibrant and pluralistic civil societies, while mitigating the risks that their misuse could have on fundamental rights.
The focus will be on four pillars: fundamental freedoms in the digital sphere; technology, business and human rights; privacy and surveillance; artificial intelligence development – opportunities and risks. More than 450 NGOs and human rights defenders from more than 100 countries will participate in the Forum. More details can be found in the Forum's agenda. The speeches of High Representative Borrell and Commissioner Urpilainen will be available on EbS.
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Spanish judiciary’s abuse of #HumanRights to come under scrutiny before UN and #ECtHR
According to several submissions to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, the Spanish legal system allows for violation of human rights, either by directly ignoring EU standards, or through loopholes in existing laws, writes Human Rights Without Frontiers Director Willy Fautré.
An emblematic case in point is the abuse suffered by the Kokorev family (Vladimir Kokorev, his wife and their son), in which the Spanish judge put three family members in a lengthy pre-trial detention, combined with no access to their case file (a regime called “secreto de sumario”), and particularly harsh prison conditions reserved for terrorists and violent criminals (called FIES regime under Spanish laws).
According to attorney Scott Crosby, who submitted an application in July on behalf of Vladimir Kokorev to the European Court of Human Rights, a Spanish judge imprisoned all three family members from 2015 to late 2017 on a vaguely worded suspicion of money-laundering. No formal charges were laid, nor “could they be laid because there was no evidence that the Kokorevs had handled illicitly generated money”, Crosby says in his submission. Towards the end of these two years of imprisonment, detention was extended for a further two years, still in the absence of a formal charge and evidence of a predicate crime. On appeal this was commuted to territorial confinement which restricted the family to Gran Canaria and required them to report weekly to the local court.
During their pre-trial detention, the Kokorevs were robbed of their presumption of innocence, being treated in all respects as dangerous prisoners such as terrorists, sexual offenders or war criminals (FIES-5, the highest and harshest level of detention conditions) although they had never used or incited violence and had no prior criminal record, in Spain or elsewhere.
Over the last fifteen years, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe, in particular the Committee of Prevention of Torture (CPT), have expressed serious concerns and warnings about the FIES system. According to the submission of Human Rights Frontiers, the FIES - 5 status, to which the Kokorev family was subjected resulted in:
“...frequent changes of cell, the use of mechanical restraints when being moved, restricted visits and allowing the prison administration to monitor and record without judicial authorisation all of their communications and visits… [denial of] the benefit of European Prison Rules, such as the right to be detained separately from convicted prisoners...day release...contact between the family…[and the option to post] bail. Alternatives to incarceration were not considered or offered.”
Furthermore, the Kokorevs were subjected to the secreto de sumario regime, which meant that neither they nor their lawyers had any access to the Court files, the evidence, or the reasoning being used by the judge to keep them in prison.
As Human Rights Without Frontiers’ submission to the UPR explains: “Significantly, this case offers a unique corroboration that the Directive 2012/13/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2012 on the right to information in criminal proceedings (which should prevent the secreto de sumario from being used in the context of pretrial detention), has not been properly implemented by Spain via the Ley Orgánica 5/2015 of 27 April 2015.”
Another joint submission by a number of Spanish law firms that specialise in criminal and penitentiary law, denounces that pretrial imprisonment is used by Spanish judges to “soften” the person under investigation. The submission concludes, after explaining that Spain takes a predominantly inquisitorial approach to the criminal investigation, that: “This tendency towards the abuse of pretrial imprisonment is the result of (a) the features of the Spanish criminal system, in which there is an investigative judge; (b) the opportunities for the investigation derived from pretrial imprisonment, particularly when it is applied simultaneously with other measures that exist in the Spanish legal system, such as the secreto de sumario and the FIES, and (c) the fact that the right to compensation for [unlawful] pretrial imprisonment is contingent upon [proof of] innocence (there even existing different kinds of innocence for these purposes)."
Stakeholder submissions called for Spain to be held accountable for these human rights violations. Repeated recommendations from various voices call Spain to abolish the secreto de sumario and FIES system, to respect the presumption of innocence, and to reform the practice of lengthy pre-trial detention.
Currently, the Kokorev Case seems to be the only instance in which a Spanish judge used these three measures in combination with each other and therefore will also be the first chance for the European Court of Human Rights to rule on this kind of practice.
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