Double punishment. How prisoners with disabilities have been fighting in the courts for years for medical care

9 April 2021

Russia pays hundreds of thousands of euros in compensation for the failure to provide medical care to prisoners under the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. These are only those cases that reach the ECHR. And how many more people with disabilities are serving sentences not reaching it? 


Now the interregional human rights organization “Man and Law” provides legal assistance to a prisoner from the Perm Region, Alexander Zubarev, who, having a disability, has not been able to receive the necessary medical care from the penal colony administration for more than three years. At the same time, the Federal Penitentiary Service refuses to pay him the compensation awarded by the court. 


This article tells the story of Zubarev and other prisoners with disabilities who had to seek treatment or release for several years.

In January 2017, Alexander Zubarev was found guilty by the Berezniki City Court of the Perm region on three drug-related charges. The court imposed a penalty of 10 years of imprisonment in a high-security colony and a fine of 200 thousand rubles.


Not released on medical grounds


Even before being placed in the colony, Zubarev had chronic osteomyelitis of the sternum, which is included in the list of diseases that prevent serving a sentence.

NGO “Man and Law”, which provides Zubarev with legal support, believes that he should be released. In this regard, the prisoner filed a request in which he detailed the legal grounds for release and medical indications that prevent him from serving his sentence. In April 2019, the Solikamsk City Court of the Perm region denied the request. An appeal was filed against this court ruling, which was also rejected.


In February 2020, we prepared a second application to the Solikamsk Court for Zubarev’s release due to a serious illness. The court again refused. In April, it was not satisfied by the Perm Regional Court. In December 2020, the Seventh Court of Cassation considered our appeal against these refusals. Our main argument was that at the first examination, the case file did not contain a medical report on the presence of Zubarev’s disease, which prevented him from serving his sentence. The presence of such a conclusion is mandatory, without it, the court does not have the right to consider the application. The court agreed with our argument and returned the case to the first instance. At the time of publication, the court meeting in the first instance is not scheduled.


No  treatment 


According to the decision of the Solikamsk City Court of the Perm region, the regional department of the Federal Penitentiary Service had to organize the treatment of the prisoner according to an individual rehabilitation program. The prisoner needs the help of a thoracic surgeon who can perform a complex operation.

Natalia Zubareva, Alexander’s wife:


— Now my husband’s condition has deteriorated much. When he was put in jail in 2017, he was still serving himself in full. Now he needs all the outerwear to be made with zippers, as he cannot raise his hands up, he has constant shortness of breath.


In addition, Natalia said that she buys painkillers for her husband herself, as he constantly needs them.


Due to the suffering he was experiencing because of physical activity restrictions, Zubarev filed a claim for compensation for non-execution of the judicial act within a reasonable time. The court satisfied him and decided that the Federal Penitentiary Service should pay him 30 thousand rubles. 


In April 2019, the institution of the Federal Penitentiary Service, which the Solikamsk Court assigned the responsibility for organizing treatment, filed an application to the Industrial District Court of Perm to terminate the enforcement proceedings in this case.


The court refused, but the FSIN did not treat Zubarev and did not pay compensation. A year later, they filed a second application to terminate the enforcement proceedings and were again refused.


Already serving his sentence, Zubarev fell ill with encephalopathy of mixed origin. This disease is also included in the list of those with which you cannot serve a sentence in a penal colony.


Lawyer of NGO “Man and Law” Vladimir Protasov:


— Taking into account the existing diseases of the convicted person, he needs serious medical intervention, which cannot be organized by the forces of prison medicine. Some of these diseases are also included in the list of diseases that prevent serving a sentence. Thus, there is a paradoxical situation when a convicted person cannot be cured or released due to illness. 


Courts and administrations are usually not on the side of prisoners

Zubarev’s case is not the only one where a prisoner with a serious illness fights for his rights in the courts. Here are a few stories that have occurred in recent years and are described in the publications of “Mediazona”.


In April 2016, the Perm Regional Court on appeal decided to release Vladislav Pershakov, who lost both legs in the colony. In 2015, they were amputated due to cardiovascular disease. “Being in a penal colony is now a double punishment for me. It is impossible not only to go for a walk, but even to visit the toilet; you have to ask other convicts. Few people agree,” the prisoner said in the trial via video link.


In the first instance, the Solikamsk City Court refused to release Pershakov, although amputation of limbs is included in the list of obstacles to serving a sentence, and the medical report was on his side.


In June of the same year, the Orenburg Regional Court released a partially paralyzed prisoner, Igor Egorov. By its decision, the court overturned the decision of the court of first instance, which refused to release him. 


Egorov was paralyzed below the chest. According to the prisoner, the colony did not provide him with the necessary medical care, only sometimes doctors gave him painkillers. Prison doctors confirmed that they could not provide full assistance to Yegorov. 


In October 2016, after the intervention of human rights activists, a wheelchair user Oleg Yudin was released from the colony in Nizhny Tagil, who suffered an ischemic stroke in the colony, which led to oxygen starvation. The diagnosis is included in the list of diseases that qualify for release from the penal colony. Convicted of murder, Yudin was in the colony since 2008, in 2009 he lost the ability to walk, he needed a wheelchair. Before the stroke, he had been complaining of headaches, tinnitus and weakness for seven years.


When the application for release was considered, the prosecutor’s office and the administration of the colony opposed it. 


In March 2017, in the same Nizhny Tagil, the court released from the colony 57-year-old Igor Klimin, who could not walk and talk and needed therapy. He was diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes, peptic ulcer disease, chronic hepatitis C, atherosclerosis of the cerebral vessels and hypertension of the second degree. Prison doctors offered him to buy medicines at his own expense or at the expense of relatives. After retinal detachment and the subsequent complication of myopia, they did not perform the necessary surgery.


Problems with obtaining the necessary medical care in the colonies occur in different regions. In 2017, a prisoner of the Krasnoyarsk colony Sergey Kozin, suffering from rectal cancer, complained about the failure to provide medical care to the ECHR. Kozin and his representative claim that the authorities violated two articles of the Convention on Human Rights: Article 3 – the prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment, and Article 13 – the lack of effective remedies.


After the operation, he needed colostomy bags, which need to be changed regularly, and special food. Colostomy bags were sent to him by his mother, since the colony did not have enough airtight ones with which it is possible to move. He was not prescribed the required special food. Other convicts confirmed that Kozin was experiencing severe suffering, as he was being held in a section with 23 other people. Because of his illness, he had unpleasant odors, and he was shy about visiting the bathhouse. Kozin did not receive the necessary course of treatment with palliative chemotherapy recommended by a specialized cancer institution.


When he wrote to the head of the colony to apply for rehabilitation funds, one of the employees of the colony told him that “complainants are not liked here.” 


The medical commission several times came to the conclusion that Kozin should be released, but the courts 6 times supported the position of the prosecutor’s office.


In September 2016, when considering the seventh petition, the Krasnoyarsk Regional Court refused to attach the conclusion of independent experts to the case materials, since “it was not related to the case materials”.


In June 2016, the European Court of Human Rights communicated 8 applications of Russian prisoners with disabilities about inhumane conditions in the colonies.


In July 2018, the ECHR awarded compensation of 15 thousand euros to a disabled person of the first group, Alexander Kondrashov, who spent 4 years in a penal colony with a diagnosis that prevented serving a sentence.


The medical commission wrote in the conclusion: “the prognosis for rehabilitation is extremely unfavorable, the prognosis for life is doubtful,” and the administration of the colony supported the release of Kondrashov, but the district and regional courts refused his request. The person, convicted in 2012, was released only in 2016, after the Supreme Court of Russia considered the issue of his release again.


 At the end of 2016, the director of the human rights organization “Zone of the law” Sergei Petryakov published a report “Prison medicine in Russia”, which states that over the past 5 years (at that time) Russia has paid more than half a million euros of fines under the decisions of the ECHR for not providing medical care to prisoners.


Co-chairman of NGO “Man and Law” Sergei Poduzov: 


— Referring to the legislation of the Russian Federation, we see that it partially allows us to speak about the humane treatment of prisoners who have grounds for release due to the presence of a serious illness. However, all of the above stories tell us that there is a problem in law enforcement practice. Law enforcement officers in the face of the Federal Penitentiary Service, the prosecutor’s office and the court in informal conversations tell us: “…but if we release a prisoner now, and he/she will go and commit a crime again, who will then be responsible?” 


Where does such a question of an employee of the Federal Penitentiary Service or an employee of the prosecutor’s Office arise from? Such a question may arise only because the role position in the head of the law enforcement officer is not correct. 


The role of the FSIN officers in the situation with the prisoner is to ensure that the convicted persons serve their sentences in conditions that do not degrade human dignity. It is necessary to create conditions for providing medical care to every prisoner without any discrimination. The role of the Prosecutor’s office is to ensure that the law is observed in relation to the prisoner. And if a prisoner has the right to be released, then the prosecutor’s office should stand on the side of the prisoner, not the administration. 


And most importantly, this misunderstanding of the role of law enforcement creates conditions where the state pays hundreds of thousands of euros to the applicants every year. But in reality, we should think and spend money on programs for the re-socialization of former prisoners, on the development of alternative punishment measures, and on measures to reduce the number of prison populations in Russia.

picture picture