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An expert opinion on political motives for criminal prosecution is a text containing a reasoned opinion of an expert about the presence or absence of political motives in the criminal prosecution of a specific person or group of people. Such motives are possible regardless of the article of the Criminal Code under which a person is accused. You may be accused of fraud, receiving a bribe, or participating in an illegal armed group. But the essence will be the same - this is not the real reason, and the motives of the criminal case are political. Political motives are the desire of people who are in power to maintain or strengthen this power.


In 2011, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The court recognized many violations by the Russian authorities, but not political motives. The ECtHR concluded: “Although the Khodorkovsky case may raise some suspicions about the real intentions of the Russian authorities in prosecuting him, the claim that the criminal prosecution was politically motivated requires irrefutable evidence, which was not presented.” Indeed, the presence of political motives must be proven.

There are two global trends that are important for our topic.

First: authoritarian and dictatorial regimes always pretend that they are not engaged in maintaining their power, but in pursuing criminals. Therefore, such regimes accuse their opponents of ordinary criminal charges, or present them as armed militants. Sometimes random people become victims of such accusations. They are sent to prison to create fear in society. I will explain this manipulation on the part of the authorities using the close and modern example of Belarus. When participants in peaceful protests are detained and convicted for participating in these actions, no questions arise. Everyone understands that these people are being persecuted for political reasons. But one of the candidates for the presidency of Belarus was detained and placed in a pre-trial detention center two months before the start of mass protests, allegedly for economic crimes. Are there political motives in the criminal prosecution of Viktor Babariko? This needs to be researched and proven.

Second: dictators and heads of authoritarian regimes are increasingly using international mechanisms and institutions. For example, Interpol or interstate treaties. They put oppositionists, human rights activists or businessmen who fled abroad from reprisals on the international wanted list and demand their extradition. Prosecutors of dictatorial and authoritarian regimes, in requests for the extradition of “criminals,” assure that these people, in the event of extradition, will be guaranteed full respect for their rights: they will not be tortured, they will be provided with medical care in case of illness, and will even be provided with “living space” in prison of at least 3 square meters. As a rule, such assurances are lies. But this deception must be convincingly confirmed. Increasingly, Russian law enforcement agencies are using so-called diffusion requests, which are sent directly to Interpol offices in different countries and do not require approval from the Interpol central office. The fact is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to carry out politically motivated requests through the central apparatus of an international police organization.

Another important point. In both democracy and dictatorship, there are real criminals who flee abroad. The extradition mechanism is also applied to such people. What awaits those returning to their homeland in each specific case, will their rights be ensured? For example, the right to life? The right not to be tortured? Yes, criminals have rights too. The problem is that not every political regime agrees with this.

Now let’s imagine a judge in a European country, the United States of America or Israel, who needs to make a decision on the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation to extradite a Russian. What does this typical judge know about the motives and methods of persecuting the opposition in Russia? What does he know about Russian pre-trial detention centers and correctional colonies, about the quality of prison medicine in the Russian Federation? What does he know about how political motives for persecution might play out in this particular case? Nothing or almost nothing. He sees, on the one hand, a request from the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office with assurances that the Russian Federation is a rule of law state. On the other hand, he sees the objections of a local lawyer, who also knows little about Russian realities. Both the prosecutor and the lawyer are interested parties for the judge. In this situation, it is an external independent examination of the motives for criminal prosecution that can become a decisive factor.

After emigrating from Russia to Ukraine, since 2015, I have been actively preparing political science expert opinions at the request of lawyers from European countries, the USA, Ukraine, Russia and Israel. Such examinations are usually needed when considering issues of asylum and extradition.

These are examinations of two closely related types:

1. About the presence of political motives for the criminal prosecution of people by the Russian state.

2. On the presence of political motives for demands for extradition, the likelihood of torture or ill-treatment in cases of extradition of citizens of the Russian Federation.

I did the first examinations on the initiative of Russian lawyers. Very often, both in cases in Russian courts and in cases of extradition, the lawyer understands that there are political motives and a violation of the client’s rights in the case. But this needs to be convincingly and objectively proven. Such proof requires expert experience. In other words, the expert himself must have experience in human rights activities in Russia, work in one of the 

public monitoring commissions to monitor compliance with the rights of detainees and prisoners, participation in public control over the activities of Russian law enforcement agencies.

In Ukraine, European countries, the USA and Israel there are quite a lot of Russian citizens, including entrepreneurs, who have become victims of raiding by the Russian state and its “siloviki” - employees of the Federal Security Service, judges, police officers. Migration officials and judges in Europe and the United States often sincerely do not understand how the Russian authorities can afford politically motivated persecution and what the motives for such persecution could be. Moreover, they do not understand how a judge can convict an innocent person without losing his position.

Political science expert opinions differ from letters of support that some Russian human rights organizations give to persecuted people. Letters of support from human rights organizations simply state that the person is being persecuted for political reasons. The attitude towards such a letter of support further depends on the authority of the organization that signed it. And also on whether the European/American/Israeli official knows anything about this organization. I show, based on international legal acts, what the political motives are in each specific case, as well as what the likelihood of human rights violations is in the event of his extradition to the Russian Federation.

I have developed a methodology for such an examination and regularly supplement it. After five years of experience, I can say that I have sufficiently tested this technique and that it works. It is difficult to judge what role expert opinions played in each specific case. Much depends on the country in which the asylum or extradition case is pending, even on the European continent. More precisely, on the quality of its legal institutions. Bosnia or Cyprus are still very different from Germany. The statistics of my examinations show that in eighty percent of cases the examination helps to obtain refugee status or avoid extradition.

More and more people are fleeing Russia. Some of them are literally fleeing persecution by the Russian regime, but they are also being tried abroad. However, we are not talking only about Russians. Citizens of Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Central Asian dictatorships from the former Soviet republics have the same and even more serious problems.

Unfortunately, there are more and more people whom the state calls criminals not because they committed a crime. The real reason is that people in power are afraid of losing power or want to strengthen it. It is becoming increasingly difficult to understand the true motives for criminal prosecution. Objectively, the need for examination of the political motives of criminal prosecution is growing. The main problem is that the vast majority of interested people - asylum seekers, lawyers, candidates for extradition - do not know about the existence of such an examination and that it can be applied in their cases.

My training course “Political Expertise”, prepared for the Free University, is aimed at increasing the visibility of such a tool for protecting rights as the examination of political motives for criminal prosecution.

I am ready to cooperate with all interested parties for the wider dissemination of such expert activities.

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