European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights

Russia: Chechen woman’s terror conviction human rights complaint reaches European court’s Grand Chamber

A European court Grand Chamber hearing is now underway into a case brought against Russia by a Chechen woman convicted on terrorism charges.

The European Court of Human Rights hearing in the case of Murtazaliyeva v. Russia (application no. 36658/05) concerns the applicant Zara Murtazaliyeva’s complaint of an overall lack of fairness in the criminal proceedings brought against her for preparing a terrorist attack.

The hearing will be broadcast from 2.30 p.m. on the Court’s Internet site (www.echr.coe.int).

The applicant, was born in 1983 and lives in Paris (France). She is a Russian national and an ethnic Chechen.

In 2004, the flat Murtazaliyeva shared with two other women was put under secret police surveillance because she was suspected of having connections with the Chechen insurgency movement.

She was subsequently stopped in the street by the police for an identity check and taken to a police station. Her bag was searched and two packages were later found to contain explosives.

She was arrested and a criminal investigation opened. Her flat was searched and evidence was seized indicating that she had been planning a terrorist attack on a shopping centre. A transcript of videotapes recorded at the flat showed her proselytising to her two flatmates about Islam and discussing her hatred for Russians.

In January 2005, Murtazaliyeva was convicted of preparing an explosion, inciting others – her two flatmates – to commit terrorism and carrying explosives. She was sentenced to nine years’ imprisonment.

The conviction was based on the statements of prosecution witnesses, including her flatmates, in open court, material (a note with extremist content and photographs) seized from the applicant, forensic examination reports, and transcripts of the police surveillance videotapes recorded at her flat.

She appealed against the conviction. She alleged, among other things, that due to technical reasons she had not been able to point out inaccuracies between the transcripts and the recordings of conversations on the videotapes.

She also complained about the refusal of two of her requests to summon witnesses: the first, to examine a police officer and acquaintance of hers who had made a pre-trial statement confirming that he had established a relationship with her at the order of his superiors; and the second, to examine two attesting witnesses who had been present during the search of her bag at the police station.

In March 2005, the Supreme Court upheld her conviction, but reduced the sentence to eight and a half years.

It notably held that no objections had been lodged with the trial court about the quality of the videotapes or the manner in which they had been shown; that the police officer could not testify in court because he was on a work-related mission but that his pre-trial statement had been read out in court with the consent of the defence; and, that the two attesting witnesses’ presence had not been necessary since Ms Murtazaliyeva claimed that the explosives had been planted in her bag before their arrival.

In its Chamber judgment of 9 May 2017, the European Court of Human Rights held, unanimously, that there had been no violation of Article 6 §§ 1 and 3 (b) of the Convention, finding that Murtazaliyeva had not been placed at a serious disadvantage vis-à-vis the prosecution in respect of the viewing and examination of the surveillance videotapes.

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