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The Renewed Judicial Assualt on Mikhail Trepashkin

Location: Washington, DC

THE RENEWED JUDICIAL ASSAULT ON MIKHAIL TREPASHKIN -- (Extensions of Remarks - October 28, 2005)


Mr. SMITH of New Jersey. Mr. Speaker, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I would like to reiterate my concerns regarding the rule of law, or the absence of it, in the Russian Federation today. The case of Mikhail Trepashkin, which I raised in the House last November, highlights the shortcomings and corruption that plague the Russian legal system.

Trepashkin, an attorney and former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer, was arrested on October 24, 2003, just one week before he was scheduled to represent the American relatives of a victim of the 1999 bombings of two Moscow apartment buildings. He was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. Trepashkin, at the behest of a Russian parliamentarian, had been investigating the bombings and was expected to present findings that suggested the involvement of elements of the FSB in the crime. Russian officials, however, had been quick to characterize the bombings as terrorist attacks, and blamed Chechen separatists. Trepashkin had publicly announced that his research had left him with many suspicious findings, including a statement by the landlord of one of the buildings that the FSB had forced him to falsify the identity of a basement apartment tenant, the suspected source of the blast. In addition, Trepashkin charged that a bomb discovered in an apartment building in the city of Ryazan and safely detonated before it was set to explode, was admittedly placed there by FSB officers who were reportedly conducting a ``readiness exercise.''

The weapon possession charge against Mr. Trepashkin fell apart in court as witnesses reported seeing a gun only in the hands of the arresting officer. However, the FSB seemed intent on derailing Trepashkin's independent inquiry, and subsequently claimed that Mr. Trepashkin had revealed classified material to unauthorized persons during the course of his investigation. In May 2004, a closed Moscow Military District Court found him guilty of divulging state secrets and sentenced him to four years in a labor camp.

Mr. Speaker, it still seems that Mr. Trepashkin was prosecuted in order to prevent him from releasing potentially damaging information regarding FSB complicity in the bombings. In other words, the security services have apparently manipulated the Russian judicial system to ``get its man.'' As the U.S. State Department expressed it diplomatically, ``The arrest and trial of Mikhail Trepashkin raised concerns about the undue influence of the FSB and arbitrary use of the judicial system.''

Even though the United States and others had called for an honest and open investigation into the circumstances surrounding the case of Mr. Trepashkin, his situation remained unchanged until August 2005. Suddenly he was released early for good behavior after completing almost half of his original four-year sentence. Regrettably, his reprieve ended as abruptly as his release. Trepashkin was detained at his home and on September 16, 2005 the regional court of Sverdlovsk overturned the lower court's early release decision. The local prosecutor who assented to Mr. Trepaskin early release has now been fired.

Trepashkin had written about the horrible jail conditions of his earlier imprisonment: hunger, sleep deprivation, withholding of medicine, and a substandard, lice-infested cell. It is now reported that conditions after his re-incarceration have become even worse. Apparently his comments to journalists during his brief release, detailing the poor jail conditions aroused the resentment of the prison guards and the administration. Trepashkin is reportedly in poor health, recently suffering an acute asthmatic attack.

Mr. Speaker, the Trepashkin case appears fraught with blatant corruption by Russian law enforcement and unacceptable manipulation of the rule of law to satisfy political vendettas. If the FSB cannot endure criticism from outside and exposure of possible malfeasance within its ranks, how effective can it be in investigating and preventing genuine threats to Russia and beyond? I believe the Russian judiciary system would be better served if the court were to adhere to its original decision to release Mikhail Trepashkin from his unwarranted confinement and allow him to return to Moscow without fear of further reprisals. Persecution of those who seek the truth is not only a violation of an individual's human rights; it further erodes Russia's already weakened democracy.

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