Victim of torture by Russian police wins landmark payout

Russian tortured by police for nine days is awarded £170,000 human rights court
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Seven years after the police tortured him into confessing he had abducted, raped and murdered a girl, crimes he did not commit, one of Russia's many victims of police brutality has won a measure of justice.

Aleksei Mikheyev, now 29 and a virtual cripple from the waist down because of his ordeal at the hands of the police, has been granted €250,000 (£170,000) in compensation by the European Court of Human Rights.

The court recognised that he had been subjected to barbaric torture and that the authorities had failed to investigate his complaint seriously. While the compensation is huge by Russian standards, it will not restore Mr Mikheyev's health. He cannot have children, cannot walk without crutches, cannot administer to his own hygiene needs and doctors have told him he will never make a full recovery.

His case is one of the most extreme in the short history of post-Soviet policing. On 10 September 1998, Mr Mikheyev was arrested and charged with the rape and murder of a teenage girl, Maria Savalyeyeva, to whom he and a friend had given a lift in the city of Nizhni Novgorod.

Mr Mikheyev, 22 and a traffic policeman at the time, said he dropped the girl off at a bus stop near his flat and never saw her again. He appeared to be the last person to have seen her alive, however, and the police had other ideas. His friend told the police he saw Mr Mikheyev rape and kill the girl and pointed out the spot where the alleged crime took place.

Later, it emerged that the friend had been coerced into making this statement.

The police then extracted a written confession from Mr Mikheyev by torturing him for nine days. Wires were attached to his earlobes and electric shocks administered, a police interrogation technique known informally as zvonok Putinu (a phone call to Putin.)

"They beat him, shouted insults at him, scared him out of his wits, and threatened to sexually assault him [by administering electric shocks to his genitals]," Olga Sadovskaya, the deputy head of Russia's Committee Against Torture, said yesterday. The police were keen that he confess to at least five other murders too.

On 19 September, Mr Mikheyev, who had by then already signed a confession saying he had murdered the missing girl, decided he could take no more. Left on his own to ponder further confessions, he broke free from the chair he was tied to and threw himself out of the cell window. He landed on a police motorbike and broke his back.

Soon afterwards, the "murdered" girl turned up unharmed and said she had been staying with friends. The news came too late for Mr Mikheyev, who was in hospital facing a series of major operations.

His tragedy did not end there. His attempts to win justice and punish the police who had ruined his life came to nothing. The case was opened and closed 26 times. Mr Mikheyev was told to drop the matter or die in a fake apartment robbery.

The situation changed last year when the European Court of Human Rights said it would examine his case and the wheels of Russian justice finally began to move. Two detectives, Nikolai Kosterin and Igor Somov, were convicted of "exceeding their power" and sentenced to four years in jail for torture.

At a press conference in Moscow yesterday, Mr Mikheyev said he would pursue others responsible, including prosecutors who closed his case time and again to protect the guilty.