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Rights court condemns secret Russian terrorism trial

The European Court of Human Rights found that Russia conducted a flawed secret trial against nine men accused of being behind a 2009 train bombing that killed 27 people.

(CN) — The European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday condemned Russia for holding a flawed secret trial against nine men convicted of carrying out terrorist attacks in 2009.

The Strasbourg-based human rights court said the men from Ingushetia – eight of whom are close relatives – should have been given a public trial instead of being tried behind closed doors.

The men were put on trial in connection with a Nov. 27, 2009, bombing of a train, the so-called Nevsky Express, between Moscow and St. Petersburg that killed 27 people and injured 207 others. Russian authorities also accused them of being behind a second bombing the following day at the scene of the investigation into the first bombing. Six people, including the director of the Federal Security Service, were injured in the second bombing.

The Strasbourg court rejected Russia's contention that a closed door trial was necessary to protect national security intelligence and those involved in the proceedings. The court's ruling was only available in French and a court news release provided details about the judgment and case.

It was the latest of numerous findings in recent years by the rights court against Russia over failings in its justice system, such as the cruel treatment of prisoners, flawed investigation practices and unjust court proceedings, such as those against imprisoned prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

On Tuesday, the same court declared it unlawful for Russia to not allow a man serving a life sentence for his involvement in an organized criminal group to make telephone calls to his young son and relatives. Danil Aleksandrovich Danilevich complained to the court that he was placed under a special prison regime where convicts are banned from making telephone calls except in emergency situations for at least the first 10 years of a life sentence.

Generally, Russia ignores the court's decisions even though it is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, an international set of protocols that brought the court into existence in 1959. The court has no power to enforce its verdicts.

In Tuesday's terrorism case, the nine men argued that they were deprived of their right to a fair and independent public trial.

The nine men were arrested during a special operation in March 2010 in a village in Ingushetia, a federal republic in Russia's conflict-riven and impoverished North Caucasus region.

They were accused of being behind the bombings and charged as members of an illegal armed group. Some of the men were charged with aggravated murder and acts of terrorism resulting in loss of life.

In May 2012, the Tver Regional Court found all nine men guilty of unlawful acquisition and possession of firearms, ammunition and explosives and belonging to an illegal armed group. Four were convicted of acts of terrorism resulting in loss of life and they were sentenced to life in prison. The other five men were sentenced to between seven and eight years’ imprisonment.

An appellate hearing at Russia's Supreme Court was held in private too. The Russian high court dismissed their appeals.

The men took their case to the Strasbourg court in 2013.

Besides finding that the Russian courts violated their rights to a public trial, the court found glaring problems with the trial proceedings. It said the defendants were denied access to evidence, had requests to question experts rejected and were not allowed to have a specialist comment on forensic reports.

Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.

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