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Russia: Grand Chamber to examine life prisoner sentencing policy

Human rights judges are set to look again at the treatment of life prisoners when the European Court examines a complaint from two Russian inmates.

The case Khamtokhu and Aksenchik v. Russia (application nos. 60367/08 and 961/11) has been brought by Alsan Bachmizovich Khamtokhu and Artyom Aleksandrovich Aksenchik. They are currently serving life sentences in the Yamalo-Nenetskiy Region following their convictions of a number of serious crimes.

Khamtokhu was found guilty in December 2000 of multiple offences, including escape from prison, aggravated assault on police officers and illegal possession of firearms. His conviction was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court first in October 2001 and, following a quashing by way of supervisory review and fresh consideration of the case, again in June 2008.

Aksenchik was found guilty of three counts of murder in April 2010. His conviction was upheld on appeal by the Supreme Court in August 2010.

Both men were sentenced to life imprisonment under Article 57 of the Russian Criminal Code which provides that a sentence of life imprisonment may be imposed for certain particularly serious offences. However, such a sentence cannot be imposed on women, persons under 18 when the offence was committed or over 65 when the verdict was delivered.

In their applications to the European Court, the applicants allege that, as adult males serving life sentences for criminal offences, they are discriminated against as compared to other categories of convicts who are exempt from life imprisonment by operation of law.

They rely on Article 5 (right to liberty and security) taken in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The applications were lodged with the European Court of Human Rights on 22 October 2008 and 11 February 2011 respectively. A decision on the admissibility was adopted by the court on 13 May 2014, declaring admissible the applicants’ complaints under Articles 14 in conjunction with Article 5 of the convention.

The chamber to which the case had been allocated relinquished jurisdiction in favour of the Grand Chamber on 1 December 2015.

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