Cameroon citizen released after a year in detention caused by a flawed court decision

The Third court of cassation of general jurisdiction (St.Petersburg) has ruled that the earlier decisions of the Kuybyshevsky district court and the St. Petersburg city court, as well as the decision of the deputy chairman of the St. Petersburg city court to fine Mr. K., a citizen of the Republic of Cameroon, expel him from Russia and place him into the temporary detention centre for foreign nationals for violating the terms of his stay in the Russian Federation were illegal.

K. had arrived in Russia in 2009 on a single-entry visa, but after the expiration of the permitted period of stay he remained in St. Petersburg. In October 2018 K. was detained by the officers of the immigration control department of the Internal Affairs Directorate of the Chief Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region. He was then charged with an administrative offence. By the time of detention, K.’s identity documents had been lost, therefore the data were entered into the police protocol on an administrative offense from K.’s own words, which were not further verified.

In court K.’s identity was established from the words of the senior inspector of the immigration control department. Despite the fact that the identity of a person who committed the unlawful action must be ascertained in the case of an administrative offense, the judge of the Kuybyshevsky district court concluded that there were no grounds to distrust the law enforcement officer and the procedural documents that had been submitted, and found K. guilty. In order to execute the decision on the expulsion, K. was placed into the detention centre for foreign nationals on November 6, 2018.

Lawyer Olga Tseytlina, who represented K.’s legal interests with the support of Anti-Discrimination Centre “Memorial”, has filed a legal complaint with the St. Petersburg city court twice. However, the judges did not see any reason for canceling the decision on expulsion and placement of K. into the detention centre for foreign nationals.

Moreover, when the bailiffs tried to execute the court decision, it turned out to be impossible: the certificate of return to the native country, issued by the Embassy of Cameroon on July 3, 2019, indicated K.’s real name, which was different from the one that had been incorrectly recorded in the police protocol and the court order that followed. In order to resolve this problem, the bailiff appealed to the Kuybyshevsky district court with a request to amend the decision, but was refused due to the lack of possibility of introducing changes into the recorded data of the person held administratively liable in accordance with the Administrative Code of the Russian Federation.

Due to an unrecoverable error in the court decision, K.’s expulsion was impossible, and his placement in the detention centre for foreign nationals was unreasonably long.

In order to defend K.’s legal rights, lawyer Olga Tseytlina appealed to the Third court of cassation of general jurisdiction. On November 1, 2019, the court’s judge ruled that the Kuybyshevsky district court of St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg city court had not complied with the requirements for a comprehensive, full and objective review of the case, and the decision to expel K. and place him into the detention centre could not be recognized as lawful. The decision of the Kuybyshevsky district court of St. Petersburg was canceled without returning the case for new consideration, and K. was released from detention.

ADC “Memorial” has already raised the issue of erroneous court decisions that had been made despite inaccuracies in the protocols and testimonies of law enforcement officials. According to the Russian law, the lack of reliable information about a person brought to administrative responsibility is the basis for terminating the case altogether. However, legally challenging these cases is extremely difficult. Victims of such court decisions, like K., are being placed into temporary detention centres for foreign nationals without the prospect of their further expulsion from the country. These people cannot be released due to the lack of a provision in the Code of Administrative Offenses of the Russian Federation that allows making changes in the data recorded in the court decision. In addition, such decisions are not considered illegal by the Russian law, as a result of which convicts receive no compensation after their release from detention.