Communicated on 4 December 2018
Application no. 13527/18
Alexander Valeryevich LAPSHIN
lodged on 7 March 2018
STATEMENT OF FACTS
The applicant, Mr Alexander ValeryevichLapshin, is an Israeli, Russian and Ukrainian national, who was born in 1976 and lives in Khayfa (Israel). He is represented before the Court by Ms K.A. Moskalenko and Ms A. Maralyan, lawyers practising in Strasbourg.
The circumstances of the case
The facts of the case, as submitted by the applicant, may be summarised as follows.
1. Background to the case
The applicant is a well-known blogger and traveller.
When working for his blog posts the applicant travelled to the Nagorno-Karabakh region. This is considered to be unlawful in terms of the Azerbaijani law and the Azerbaijani authorities issued an international arrest warrant in respect of the applicant.
On the basis of the international arrest warrant, in December 2016 the applicant was arrested in Belarus. On 7 February 2017 he was extradited to Azerbaijan.
On 20 July 2017 the applicant was convicted for unlawfully traveling to Nagorno-Karabakh.
On 11 September 2017 he was pardoned by the President of Azerbaijan after which he was deported to Israel.
2. The circumstances of the applicant’s transfer to Azerbaijan and his stay in prison
During the applicant’s transfer from Belarus to Azerbaijan, he was constantly handcuffed and was humiliated by being “assisted” by the escorting officers when urinating. He was also threatened during the transfer for being the alleged supporter of “the occupiers of the Azerbaijani territory”. Upon the arrival in Azerbaijan, the applicant was apprehended by the members of the special police, who held him so firmly that it caused him pain. He was also shown to the media.
The applicant was then admitted to Kurdakhany prison. During the admission, he was stripped naked and made to wait for a further examination for more than an hour. During that time, he was mocked by the prison staff. Throughout this period he was handcuffed.
Throughout his stay in Kurdakhany prison, for some seven months, the applicant was kept in solitary confinement. The only exception was for two weeks in May 2017. In the solitary confinement, he also suffered health problems as a result of which he lost consciousness in April 2017 so that he fell and hurt his head. He repeatedly asked to be removed from the solitary confinement but this was to no avail.
When meeting the investigator in his case, the applicant was threatened for being an “Armenian spy”. Threats were also made concerning his family. Russian Consul whom he met advised him not to make any formal complaints as he might regret. He was also advised by his officially-appointed lawyer to confess to the offence. The lawyer did not react to the pressure being brought upon the applicant.
For a month, the applicant was not allowed to make contact with his relatives and then, once this was allowed, he was threatened that he would again be prohibited to contact them if he failed to cooperate.
The applicant was threatened and harassed by other inmates and the prison authorities did nothing to protect him.
In particular, on 4 April 2017, during a transfer to a psychiatric examination, about ten other inmates who were with him in the van threatened to sexually assault and kill him considering him as an “Armenian spy”.
On 17 April 2017 the other detainees in the temporary detention cell in the Court of Appeal threatened him with sexual violence in the presence of the guards, who did not react to such threats.
On 15 May 2017, while being escorted to a medical unit, the other detainees threatened to kill him and shouted various insults. The guards who were present did not react.
The applicant made complaints to the prison administration and the investigators and he also wrote to the Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan. As a result, he was taken to the head of the prison administration who warned him that if he kept complaining he would be confronted with even worse conditions. The investigator refused to take an official complaint from the applicant.
As there was no reaction to his complaints, the applicant started with hunger strike at the end of May 2017. He stopped because the prison authorities had threatened him with sexual assault if he continued with it.
On 22 June 2017, while being escorted to the court hearing, the applicant was harassed by other inmates who called him “dirty Jew” and expressed regret that all Jews were not killed. This happened in the presence of the guards, who did nothing to prevent it.
In connection with this incident, the applicant complained to the Deputy Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan. However, he received a reply that the perpetrators had not been identified and that his life had not been in danger.
3. The incident of 10/11 September 2017
Following his conviction in July 2017, the applicant instituted the relevant proceedings for his transfer to Israel where he would serve the remaining part of the sentence. The transfer was expected to take place in September 2017.
On the night of 10/11 September 2017, at about midnight, the applicant was about to fall asleep in his cell in Kurdakhany prison in which he was kept isolated from other inmates. However, at one point the doors of the cell opened and the applicant was attacked by a group of masked men.
One of the attackers held the applicant’s hands and legs, another one threw something (pillow or blanket) on his face and a third one jumped on him and started strangling him with his hands. He was also beaten during the attack. Soon after the attack unfolded the applicant lost consciousness.
According to a medical certificate from Azerbaijan, at about 1 p.m. the applicant was brought to the hospital MerkeziKlinika by the prison officials and a prison physician. It was indicated that the applicant had been found in the cell with reduced consciousness and breathing difficulties.
The applicant regained consciousness after spending two days in the hospital’s intensive care unit. He did not have voice, did not feel his tongue and the right side of the face, and he had difficulties moving his right foot and hand. He also had hearing impairments and could not at first properly coordinate his movements.
The applicant was discharged from the hospital on 14 September 2017. The discharge report indicated that he had suffered asphyxiation and that he had injuries on his throat, tongue and vocal cords.
In the meantime the applicant was pardoned (see above) so he was taken directly from the hospital to the airport in order to be deported to Israel. He was not given any of the documents that he had had with him in prison.
Immediately after arriving in Israel, the applicant was admitted to the Chaim Sheba Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. His injuries related to strangulation were confirmed in the medical examinations. The applicant also saw a psychiatrist.
Soon afterwards, the applicant gave interviews to various Azerbaijani and international media concerning the event. At the same time, a high Azerbaijani State official gave interviews to the media describing the event as a suicide attempt.
On 1 February 2018 the applicant sent an email to the Deputy Prosecutor General of Azerbaijan asking for an investigation into the attempt on his life.
As he received no reply, on 17 February 2018 the applicant sent a registered letter to the Deputy Prosecutor General reiterating his earlier request. The letter was received on 28 February 2018. The applicant never received a reply to his letter.
The applicant also privately commissioned two forensic medical reports concerning his injuries.
A report produced by a group of experts concluded that the injuries suggested that there had been an attempted homicide, which was portrayed as a suicide attempt.
A report produced by the expert M.D.-G. found that the applicant had been beaten and strangled. For the expert, this suggested a homicide attempt.
The applicant complains that there was an attempt to his life in prison, and that the authorities failed to protect his life and to investigate the circumstances of the case. He also alleges ill-treatment and humiliation during the transfer from Belarus to Azerbaijan and during his stay in prison. Moreover, he complains that he was kept in solitary confinement for a period of seven months.
The applicant relies on Articles 2 and 3 of the Convention.
QUESTIONS TO THE PARTIES
1. Has the applicant exhausted all available and effective domestic remedies, as required by Article 35 § 1 of the Convention, for his complaints of ill-treatment and humiliation during the transfer from Belarus to Azerbaijan and during his stay in prison, as well as for those related to his solitary confinement in prison?
2. Has the applicant complied with the six-month time-limit laid down in Article 35 § 1 of the Convention concerning, in particular, the complaints of ill-treatment during his transfer from Belarus to Azerbaijan?
3. Has there been a violation of the applicant’s right to life under Article 2 of the Convention and/or his protection from ill-treatment under Article 3 of the Convention concerning the event of 10/11 September 2017?
In particular, (i) Were the State authorities directly involved and/or complicit in the alleged attack against the applicant?; (ii) Did they take the requisite measures under Articles 2 and/or 3 of the Convention to protect the applicant from such an attack?; (iii) Having regard to the procedural obligation under Articles 2 and/or 3 of the Convention, did the domestic authorities conduct an effective investigation into the attack?
4. Has the applicant been subjected to ill-treatment and harassment, in breach of Article 3 of the Convention, during his transfer from Belarus to Azerbaijan and during his stay in prison? Having regard to the procedural obligation under Article 3, did the domestic authorities conduct an effective investigation into the events?
5. Did the circumstances and manner of the applicant’s solitary confinement give rise to a breach of Article 3 of the Convention?
The Government are requested to submit copies of all relevant documents concerning the applicant’s case.