Bulgaria is About to Extradite an Active Participant in Anti-Kremlin Protests

Bulgaria is about to extradite Russian citizen Alexey Alchin, an active participant in anti-Kremlin protests. This is the same man who, after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in February, put a ribbon with the Ukrainian flag over this chest and publicly burned his Russian passport.

The video documenting the event is widely available online. On Monday, the Regional Court in Varna ruled to extradite him—a decision which, if confirmed by the Court of Appeals, would set a meaningful precedent in the event that he is indeed extradited. The precedent is especially significant when one considers that until now, Bulgaria has never effectively extradited a Russian citizen who is believed to be the victim of politically motivated charges or could be a target of oppression due to their political activity, even when their actions have been purely criminal.

One example of the prosecution itself refusing to proceed with its demand for extradition is the case of Nikolai Koblyakov in 2014. Another example is that of M.G. in 2012, when the Veliko Tarnovo Court of Appeals moved to extradite certain Russian citizens of Chechen origin based on very serious charges, but the European Court of Human Rights stopped them with temporary measures. These measures were enacted back when Russian was still a member of the Council of Europe. Moreover, this occurred before the occupation of Crimea, when many European countries still regarded Russia as a potential partner.

What is strange about the judgement of the Varna Regional Court is that the court trusts the Russian justice system and the assurances of the Russian authorities, even after Russia was dismissed from the Council of Europe due to its military intervention in Ukraine. According to the court, the charges against Alchin are purely criminal: large-scale tax evasion. As if the charges brought against other critics of the Kremlin regime were not similar—Hodorovsky, along with Platon Lebedev, where convicted on charges of tax evasion; Before he was killed in prison, Magnitsky was also accused of tax crimes; Navalny was convicted of embezzling more than $500,000. The Varna District Court is also trusting the Russian authorities that Alchin will be guaranteed every opportunity for legal defense and that he will not be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, and degrading forms of treatment or punishment. As if hundreds of political prisoners in Russia, including those who were tortured during their detention, were not provided with legal defense.

There is overwhelming evidence showing that for critics of the regime in today’s Russia—such as Alchin—there is no justice. This applies to an even greater degree to the period after the war and Russia’s dismissal from the Council of Europe. Russian citizens do not have access to the ECHR, the Committee Against Torture cannot access places in Russia where people are deprived of their liberty, and other European mechanisms for human rights protection are also not functioning.

Regarding this case, Russia has assured the Bulgarian authorities that employees of the Embassy of the Republic of Bulgaria in the Russian Federation will be able to visit Alchin at any time in order to verify that Russia is keepings its promises.

Similar assurances were made by the Russian General Prosecutor’s Office in the case of M.G. v. Bulgaria. In response, the ECHR stated:

“The Court does not forget that in this case, the assurances in question were made by the General Prosecutor’s Office of the Russian Federation, which is part of the Convention and is therefore required to respect the fundamental rights that the Convention guarantees.  The Court believes, nonetheless, that given the unique circumstances of this case, these assurances are insufficient to abolish the risk that the complainant will be mistreated. In particular, we note that the international reports at our disposal show that individuals—similar to the complainant—charged with belonging to an armed group in cases concerning [military] operations in North Caucus are often subject to torture during their arrest and that the competent Russian authorities frequently ignore their responsibility to conduct an effective investigation into instances of complaints of mistreatment in facilities for temporary detainment under guard in the North Caucus.”

This was the ECHR’s reasoning regarding Russia’s assurances in 2012—before Crimea, before the invasion of Ukraine, and before Russia’s dismissal from the Council of Europe. What would be the Court’s deliberation regarding the assurances of the Russian authorities now?

Author: Krasimir Kunev