Torture by police officers that led to the death of a prisoner and a faulty investigation. Violation of the right to life and the prohibition of torture
Satybalova and others v. Russia 30.06.2020 (app. no. 79947/12)
Torture by police. Involvement of serious bodily injuries and death of a victim. Right to life. Prohibition of torture. Right to freedom and security.
The applicant’s relative, for refusing to obey police orders, was forcibly dragged to the police station, illegally detained and severely beaten, resulting in his death. The investigation was not completed until the decision of the ECHR and is ongoing. No evidence has been utilized nor have the culprits been found from the situation of the police officers on the day of the incident. The applicants complained of a violation of the right to life and of torture.
The ECtHR found that the domestic investigation and the Government’s observations before the Court had failed to provide any explanation or justification for the use of force by the police against Satybalov, which led to his death. He considered that there was a violation of the essential part of the right to life (Article 2).
Accordingly, the ECtHR found that the investigation of the criminal case has continued for several years without achieving results despite the numerous direct pieces of evidence that showed the identity of the perpetrators. It therefore found a violation of Article 2 as regards the procedural part.
The ECtHR subsequently ruled that the ill-treatment of Satybalov by police officers with violent blows to the head and body constituted torture and resulted in his death. Violation of Article 3 of the ECHR.
Finally, the ECtHR found that Satybalov’s detention was not substantiated by an official police document and ruled that the victim’s detention was illegal and arbitrary. It therefore held that there had been a violation of the right to liberty and security (Article 5 of the ECHR).
The ECtHR awarded as compensation 10,000 euros to Luiza Satybalova and 8,000 euros to Taisa Nartayeva and 80,000 euros together for mental anguish.
Article 2 (ουσιαστικό και διαδικαστικό σκέλος),
The case concerned a family’s complaint that their relative, Marat Satybalov, had died as a result of
severe ill-treatment by the police.
The applicants are Madina Satybalova, Luiza Satybalova and Taisa Nartayeva who were born in 1961,
1968 and 1940. They are respectively the sister, wife and mother of Marat Satybalov, who was born
in 1974. The first applicant lives in Khasavyurt and the other applicants in Aksay, the Khasavyurt
Mr Satybalov and two friends, Mr M.Sh. and Mr M.G., were apprehended by the police on 2 May
2010 after stopping to buy painkillers from a pharmacist. The police dragged the three men out of
their car and hit them with the butts of their machine guns. They were then taken to the local
district police station where the beatings continued, while they were repeatedly asked why they had
Four other friends, who had gone to the station looking for Mr Satybalov, Mr M.Sh. and Mr M.G.,
were also subjected to beatings. They were released when a relative who was a law-enforcement
officer intervened on their behalf.
Mr Satybalov, Mr M.Sh. and Mr M.G. were held overnight in the police station, and released the next
day after being brought before a judge and fined for an administrative offence, namely failing to
obey the lawful orders of the police.
The applicants noticed that all three men had injuries on their release. Mr Satybalov in particular
could not stand up, was covered in scratches and bruises and part of his beard had been pulled out.
His state of health worsened and his family took him to hospital where he died on 7 May 2010 after
suffering extensive internal bleeding.
Mr Satybalov’s mother immediately complained to the Dagestan prosecutor’s office, requesting the
prosecution of those responsible for her son’s ill-treatment and death. Mr Satybalov’s friends were
interviewed, describing in detail the beatings they had all been subjected to. An internal police
inquiry confirmed the use of force against Mr Satybalov and recommended that disciplinary
measures be taken against certain officers. It also found that the officers implicated in the incident
had given false information when questioned about Mr Satybalov’s detention.
However, the investigation, suspended five times between 2010 and 2015 for failure to identify
those responsible for the ill-treatment, is currently still ongoing. The supervisory bodies have
repeatedly ordered that urgent measures be taken, such as examining the crime scene and
identifying those officers on duty on the day of the incident, without success.
Relying in particular on Article 2 (right to life) and Article 3 (prohibition of torture and inhuman or
degrading treatment), the applicants alleged that their relative had died as a result of severe ill treatment by the police and that the domestic authorities had failed to effectively investigate their
allegations. Also relying on Article 5 (right to liberty and security), they alleged that his detention at
the police station between 2 and 3 May 2010 had been unlawful and arbitrary.
THE DECISION OF THE COURT…
Α) substantive aspect of Article 2 of the Convention
The Court observes that the Government neither disputed the circumstances of the ill-treatment of Mr Satybalov as presented by the applicants, nor the applicants’ allegation that he had died as a result of the injuries inflicted during the ill-treatment. Therefore, it has been established that as a result of the beatings on 2 May 2010 by the police officers, Mr Satybalov suffered numerous injuries, including punctured lungs, broken ribs and damage to his heart, kidneys and arteries, which led to his death on 7 May 2010 .
The Court reiterates that where an individual is taken into police custody in good health and is found to be injured on release, it is incumbent on the State to provide a plausible explanation of how those injuries were caused. The obligation on the authorities to account for the treatment of an individual in custody is particularly stringent where that individual dies. Given that the domestic investigation or the Government in their submissions before the Court have failed to provide any explanation or justification for the use of force by the police against Mr Satybalov which led to his death, the Court finds that Mr Satybalov’s death can be attributed to the State. Bearing in mind the rejection of the preliminary objection of non-exhaustion of domestic remedies in the context of criminal investigation, as raised by the Government the Court concludes that there has therefore been a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 2 of the Convention.
B) procedural aspect of Article 2 of the Convention
The obligation to carry out an effective investigation into allegations of treatment infringing Articles 2 and 3 suffered at the hands of State agents is well established in the Court’s case-law.
At the outset, the Court observes that the investigation of the criminal case has been ongoing for several years without attaining any results, despite the numerous pieces of direct evidence pointing to the identity of the perpetrators . The documents submitted show that the investigation has been consistently criticised by the supervisory bodies, which have ordered compulsory remedial measures to no avail.
Furthermore, as to the Government’s preliminary objection that was joined to the merits of the complaint, the Court observes that from the documents submitted it appears that despite repeated requests the applicants were not duly informed of the suspensions and other important steps taken by the investigators in the criminal case. Keeping in mind the principles established by its case law and given the investigators’ systematic and clear failure to comply with the orders issued by their superiors, the Court finds that any further challenge by the applicants before a court of the very same failures would appear devoid of any practical purpose.
There has accordingly been a violation of Article 2 of the Convention under its procedural limb.
In determining whether a particular form of ill-treatment should be qualified as torture, consideration must be given to the distinction, embodied in Article 3, between this notion and that of inhuman or degrading treatment. Thus, an assessment of the level of severity of the ill‑treatment has to be carried out. This assessment depends on all the circumstances of the case, such as the duration of the treatment, its physical and/or mental effects and, in some cases, the sex, age and state of health of the victim In addition to the severity of the treatment, there is a purposive element, which defines torture in terms of the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering with the aim, inter alia, of inflicting punishment or intimidating. Keeping in mind these criteria, the Court finds that the ill-treatment to which Mr Satybalov was subjected between 2 and 3 May 2010 and which led to his subsequent death on 7 May 2010 amounted to torture.
Accordingly, there has been a violation of the substantive aspect of Article 3 of the Convention.
The applicants complained that Mr Satybalov’s right to liberty and security had been violated. In particular, they stated that his detention at the police station between 2 and 3 May 2010 had been in breach of the guarantees contained in Article 5 of the Convention,
The right to liberty and security is of the highest importance in a “democratic society” within the meaning of the Convention. The Court therefore considers that the unacknowledged detention of an individual is a complete negation of the fundamentally important guarantees contained in Article 5 of the Convention and discloses a most grave violation of that provision The absence of a record of such matters as the date, time and location of detention, the name of the detainee, the reasons for the detention and the name of the person effecting it must be seen as incompatible, inter alia, with the very purpose of Article 5 of the Convention. It is also incompatible with the requirement of lawfulness under the Convention.
The Court notes that according to the court’s decision of 3 May 2010, Mr Satybalov’s detention at the ROVD and the subsequent fine imposed by the justice of the peace came about as a result of his refusal to obey lawful orders of the police (However, according to the conclusions of the internal inquiry of 27 June 2010, which had been carried out into the actions of the police officers following the incident, the reasons given by the implicated police officers for Mr Satybalov’s detention had been characterised by “the lack of sincerity, unscrupulousness and … false information”. The internal police inquiry therefore established that the reasons for Mr Satybalov’s detention had not been substantiated.
Having regard to the above and its finding relating to Article 2 , the Court finds that there has been a violation of Article 5 of the Convention on account of Mr Satybalov’s detention at the police station between 2 and 3 May 2010.
Having regard to the findings relating to Article 2 of the Convention under its procedural limb , the Court considers that it is not necessary to examine whether in the present case there have been a violation of Article 13 taken in conjunction with Article 2 of the Convention.