Russian court rules to release stateless person from detention following Constitutional Court’s resolution

On June 22, 2017, Kirovsky district court of St. Petersburg ruled to release Noe Mskhiladze, a stateless person, after more than 17 months of detention in the center for temporary detention of foreign nationals for St. Petersburg and Leningrad Region. This became possible due to an earlier resolution by the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, which established a mechanism for release of stateless persons, who could have been previously deprived of freedom for de facto indefinite periods of time. Previously Russian courts had no legal grounds for termination of detention of stateless persons in specialized institutions for foreign nationals, which had been subjected to expulsion from the country by court rulings.

Russian legislation is particularly imperfect in regulating the legal status of non-citizens, it does not take into account the specific situation of stateless persons, equating them with ordinary foreign nationals-violators of the Russian migration regulations. This approach is erroneous and in the past it has lead to systemic violations of human rights. In particular, one of these violations was the illegal deprivation of liberty for de facto indefinite periods of time ahead of expulsion from the country ruled by courts, which was in fact impracticable in case of stateless persons. Some bailiffs, who considered the actual situation of stateless persons not only according to the letter of the law, but also taking into account the real situation of people caught in de facto indefinite imprisonment, had earlier tried to take some measures in order to get them released. However, the courts often interpreted the legal norms very formally and narrowly, relying on the established practice designed for foreign nationals. Thus, in April 2016 Kirovsky district court refused to allow the bailiff to terminate the enforcement proceedings against Mskhiladze, who had stated that “it had been impossible to carry out the procedure for expulsion from the Russian Federation”.

It was only more than a year later that the Russian Constitutional Court has recognized in its resolution dated May 23, 2017 that the provisions of Article 31.7 and Article 31.9 of the Code of administrative offenses of the Russian Federation were in contradiction with the Russian constitution and pointed out the impossibility of resolving the problem of legality of further detention of a stateless persons, who had been previously sentenced to administrative deportation from the country. This important decision has led to the creation of a new legal mechanism that allowed people to be released in circumstances when they could not be deported and, accordingly, to a change of the law enforcement practice of the Russian courts. A month later, the judge, who was considering Mskhiladze’s case, has first applied the mechanism established by the Constitutional Court and has released Mskhiladze from detention in the courtroom. The judge pointed out in the court ruling that before introduction of the required changes to the existing legislation, stateless persons placed in the temporary detention centers for foreign nationals in the absence of the actual possibility of their expulsion from the country, should be granted “the right to appeal to court with a claim for verification of the legality and validity of their further detention” at least after three months since the original court ruling on their case. Verification of a real possibility of deportation of a stateless person outside of Russia is of particular importance here. The court has established that there was no state, which was ready to accept Mskhiladze, ensure his entry into the and confirm his citizenship, and due to that the court has considered the continued detention of a stateless person in the center for temporary detention of foreign nationals illegal. About the same time another stateless person, Victor Nigmatulin, was released from a different detention center for foreign nationals. He provided materials for the publication of a report “Imprisoned stateless persons in Russia: The Search for a Way Out of a Legal Deadend”.

ADC “Memorial” welcomes the change in the practice of Russian courts, which is aimed at release of stateless persons, who in fact, could be permanently illegally imprisoned in special detention centers. We hope that more and more people will be released in the nearest future.