EU Reporter (08.01.2020) – http://bit.ly/2QVKSEq – 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 sumarioregime;
- 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.