Spain faces fresh questions of use of "incommunicado" detention

Spain has faced renewed embarrassing questions about its commitment to the rule of law: in particular the detention conditions in its prisons. The issue was raised by four UN member states during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its human rights report at the UN in Geneva on 22 January.

In the plenary session, Austria said that the use of the so-called “incommunicado detention” regime – where suspects are denied access to a lawyer - should generally cease.

The Czech Republic pressed Spain to bring its legislation covering torture and incommunicado detention into line with international standards while Luxemburg urged Madrid “to eliminate this form of imprisonment and to prohibit isolation for more than 15 days.”

The UK, meanwhile, questioned Spain about its respect of the human rights of suspects and detainees.

In a submission to Spain’s UPR, Brussels lawyer Scott Crosby noted that Human Rights Watch had expressed regrets “that Spain rejected recommendations during its 2010 UPR to review the incommunicado detention regime”, a system more normally used for terrorists and terror suspects.

The UK, Slovenia, Germany and the Netherlands had, in the first UPR cycle in 2010, already expressed serious concerns about the “secrecy” of incommunicado detention and pre-trial investigation.

There is also concern that Spain has other weapons available for pretrial detention that are designed to do the same as incommunicado imprisonment in investigative/judicial proceedings, also at the expense of human rights.

The case of one family was highlighted in various submissions to Spain’s UPR as an example of what has been dubbed "alternative persuasion methods.”

Three members of the Kokorev family were arrested in Panama in September 2015 on an international arrest warrant issued by Spain related to an unsubstantiated accusation of money laundering between 2000-2004. The three agreed to their extradition and were transferred to Spain, where they expected the case to be dismissed, or, at least, that they would be released on bail after accepting extradition voluntarily.

They were first incarcerated in Madrid and then in Las Palmas where they have spent about two years in detention.

Vladimir Kokorev, a respected businessman, started pre-trial detention aged 61 years when he was suffering from ill health. After 809 days in detention in Spain (from 31 October 2015 until 18 January 2018), he underwent serious heart surgery.

The Kokorevs were kept in pretrial detention under complete secrecy and, they claim, were victims of guilt by association. The family were kept separated, first in different prisons and then in different cell blocks within the same prison.

They were held with convicted prisoners who had more rights than pretrial detainees and subjected to a particularly harsh regime meant for terrorists, terror suspects, sexual criminals and war criminals. Lawyers were also denied access to their files for 18 months.

The case has been widely condemned including by Willy Fautre, director of the Brussels-based Human Rights Without Frontiers NGO, who told this website, “Their detention was quite a few notches above Carlos Ghosn's ordeal in Japan and also reinforced their perception of guilt.”

The Kokorevs, he said, were “robbed” of their presumption of innocence during their pre-trial detention.

Day release from prison or a regime of ‘semi-liberty’, for example, only sleeping in prison, is often granted to convicted criminals on certain conditions after they have served part of their term.

But this was denied to each of the Kokorev family, none of whom had not been convicted, had a criminal record and who should have enjoyed the presumption of innocence, said Fautre.

Kokorev struggled in prison with his health, suffering from several heart conditions, hypertension, and diabetes.

In hospital, he remained handcuffed and the armed authorities refused to remove them, even when it was requested by a nurse.

His son, Igor, suffered similarly while in detention.He was not allowed to be housed with his father, being told this was because they were both under active investigation. However, many other inmates who were under active investigation in the same cases, were housed together.After 20 months of detention Igor Kokorev received an offer from the prosecution to be released in exchange for making an incriminating statement against his father. He declined and was eventually released without bail.

A few months later an IT expertise revealed that a piece of evidence used to keep him in prison had been fabricated by the police a month after the arrest.

Fautre is also scornful of these and other detention conditions used by the Spanish authorities, saying, “This kind of imprisonment is just as bad as ‘incommunicado detention’ and can lead to self-incrimination of any imaginary crime, just to escape such detention conditions.”

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Martin Banks

Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a highly qualified journalist with many years experience of working within the EU institutions. He is an occasional, and highly valued, contributor to EU today, writing on a wide variety of issues.

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