Latvia loses three cases at European Court of Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has ruled against Latvia in three cases, it said October 5.

The first case concerned Valters Ābele, a deaf-mute prisoner with spondylosis convicted in 2008 of aggravated murder. He claimed that the conditions in which he was kept in prison had been illegal, with up to 20 prisoners to a cell and that the conditions had broken his health".

He alleged that he had not been able to engage in any meaningful activities due to his disability and that he had not been properly understood either by the prison staff or by other inmates. He had felt socially isolated.

The ECHR said his rights had been breached and awarded him 7,500 euros in respect of non‑pecuniary damage.

The second case was brought by Ineta Kalēja, a former accountant at a building management company who was convicted in Latvia of misappropriating funds from the business. She maintained that during the legal proceedings against her she had on several times been refused permission to have a lawyer present, which was a breach of her legal rights. She also believed that with the case lasting more than nine years, the case had been unacceptably drawn out. She complained that her conviction had been unlawful and that at one hearing of the appeal court she had only been given fifteen minutes in which to familiarise herself with the contents of the large number of documents in the case file.

Kalēja claimed 500,000 euros in respect of non-pecuniary damage. While the ECHR agreed she "must have sustained non‑pecuniary damage on account of the unreasonable length of the criminal proceedings against her," it awarded her just 4,000 euros.

The third case saw Nikita Ostroveņecs saying he had been beaten and humiliated by officials while on trial for his role in the aggravated murder of a 15-year-old girl in order to extract a full confession from him. According to Ostroveņecs, the beatings took place in the court building itself and resulted in him changing his plea from "partially guilty" to ''guilty" (both of which are admissable under Latvian law).

On the trial days, that is to say on 20, 21, 24 and 25 May 2010, in the holding area in the basement of the Riga Regional Court, he was insulted and physically assaulted by the detainee escort officers to make him confess to the crimes. He was made to perform different exercises, such as a “wall-sit” exercise, push-ups and a “duck walk” (walking slowly in a squatting position). While the applicant was performing the exercises he received blows to the back with a rubber truncheon. The applicant submits further that the escort officers assaulted him before and after the hearings and during the breaks. They beat him on different parts of the body. During the beatings they expressed their opinion regarding the criminal proceedings and manifested a negative and belittling attitude towards him. They also threatened to kill or mutilate the applicant if he did not plead guilty. Having been psychologically broken and without having consulted his lawyer, during the hearing of 25 May 2010 the applicant admitted his guilt and refused to testify," ECHR documents state.

He was eventually convicted by the Riga court.

The ECHR upheld the complaint, awarding Ostroveņecs 8,000 euros in damages (he had requested 15,000) plus costs.

 

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