Russia: Pattern of enforced disappearances of imprisoned dissident voices must end, says UN expert

Geneva, 21 December, 2023.- A UN expert has raised concerns about the enforced disappearance of Alexey Gorinov, after receiving information that his whereabouts and health condition have been unknown since 8 December 2023.

“I am gravely concerned by a pattern of enforced disappearances of arbitrarily detained dissident political figures in Russia. Like fellow opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Alexey Gorinov has been subjected to an enforced disappearance. Also similar to Alexei Navalny, Gorinov’s enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention, which amounts to torture and ill-treatment, puts him at risk of further human rights violations, including loss of his life,” said Mariana Katzarova, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Russian Federation.

Gorinov was last seen by his lawyer at the Vladimir Region Penal Colony No. 2 (IK-2) of the Federal Penitentiary Service (UFSIN), on 8 December 2023, after which date the authorities have not allowed him any contact with his lawyer, his family or the outside world. After his last visit to the penal colony, the lawyer was alarmed that Gorinov was in a life-threatening health condition. After Gorinov’s lawyers searched for him in all penal colonies in Vladimir Region, trying to identify his whereabouts, they have heard on Wednesday night that he might be at Vladimir penal colony IK-3. However, this information has not been officially confirmed.

The UN Special Rapporteur said that Gorinov’s treatment and conditions of detention, including reports about the prison authorities withholding lifesaving medicine and medical treatment from him, need to be urgently investigated and prosecuted with a view to holding those responsible accountable.

“I call on the Russian authorities to immediately disclose Gorinov’s whereabouts and his state of health and grant him immediate access to adequate medical care, to his family and his defence lawyers. The practice of enforced disappearance of imprisoned political figures in Russia must end,” the expert said.

On 16 November 2022, the Working Group on arbitrary detention found that Gorinov was arbitrarily detained and requested his immediate release. The Special Rapporteur is highly concerned that more than a year after the pronouncement of the Working Group on arbitrary detention, Gorinov was still imprisoned in conditions amounting to torture and ill-treatment, including prolonged detention in a punitive isolation cell in cold and damp conditions, leading to further deterioration of his health. For 48 consecutive days, between 7 September and 25 October 2023, he was kept incommunicado in solitary confinement.

“The intentional suffering inflicted on Gorinov during his arbitrary detention contravenes the prohibition on torture and ill-treatment and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment under the Convention against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, binding on the Russian Federation,” the expert said.

Alexey Gorinov, a local politician and a member of the Krasnoselsky District Municipal Council in Moscow, was arbitrarily arrested and detained on 26 April 2022, on charges under article 207.3 of the Criminal Code for so-called “public dissemination of deliberately false information about the use of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. He was later sentenced to seven years of imprisonment for a statement that he made during a regular meeting of the Krasnoselsky District Municipal Council, in which he called the “special military operation” a “war”. Discussing in the Council a proposed exhibition of children’s drawings, he stated that such exhibition is not appropriate while “children on the territory of Ukraine were dying and were made orphans as a result of the actions of the armed forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine.”

The crime under article 207.3 of the Criminal Code was introduced in Russian legislation in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, on 24 February 2022, and it imposed an official censorship on any anti-war expression, banned all independent reporting and criminalised the legitimate and peaceful exercise of freedom of expression about the war against Ukraine.

With regard to the domestic legislation under which Gorinov was tried and sentenced to seven years of imprisonment, the Special Rapporteur documented in her report to the Human Rights Council the arbitrary and disproportionate prison sentences handed down against peaceful protesters and dissenting voices in Russia and provided concrete recommendations to the Russian Government to remedy the situation.

“Gorinov and all those arbitrarily detained should be released immediately and provided remedies and reparations for all the harm suffered, in line with international human rights obligations,” the Special Rapporteur said.

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