Judgment (Merits and Just Satisfaction) of Court (Fifth Section), April 16, 2015 (case CASE OF MEZHIYEVA v. RUSSIA)

JudgeSTICHTING RUSSIAN JUSTICE INITIATIVE
DefenseRUSSIA
Resolution DateApril 16, 2015
Issuing OrganizationCourt (Fifth Section)

FIFTH SECTION

CASE OF MEZHIYEVA v. RUSSIA

(Application no. 44297/06)

JUDGMENT

STRASBOURG

16 April 2015

This judgment will become final in the circumstances set out in Article 44 § 2 of the Convention. It may be subject to editorial revision.

In the case of Mezhiyeva v. Russia,

The European Court of Human Rights (Fifth Section), sitting as a Chamber composed of:

             Mark Villiger, President,              Angelika Nußberger,              Boštjan M. Zupančič,              André Potocki,              Helena Jäderblom,              Aleš Pejchal,              Dmitry Dedov, judges,and Claudia Westerdiek, Section Registrar,

Having deliberated in private on 24 March 2015,

Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on that date:

PROCEDURE

  1. The case originated in an application (no. 44297/06) against the Russian Federation lodged with the Court under Article 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (“the Convention”) by a Russian national, Ms Kisa Abdul-Kadirovna Mezhiyeva (“the applicant”), on 15 September 2006.

  2. The applicant was represented by Stichting Russian Justice Initiative, an NGO based in the Netherlands with a representative office in Russia. The Russian Government (“the Government”) were represented by Mr G. Matyushkin, the Representative of the Russian Federation at the European Court of Human Rights.

  3. The applicant alleged, in particular, under Article 2 of the Convention that the Russian authorities had failed to protect her husband’s and her own right to life. She further alleged that the investigation of the circumstances of her husband’s death and her own severe injuries caused in the explosion on the bridge over river Sunzha in 2001 had been ineffective.

  4. On 1 April 2009 the application was communicated to the Government.

    THE FACTS

    1. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THE CASE

  5. The applicant, Ms Kisa Abdul-Kadirovna Mezhiyeva, is a Russian national who was born in 1961 and lives in Grozny.

    1. Explosion which led to the death of the applicant’s husband

  6. The applicant lived with her husband, Mr Mauda Mezhiyev, in Grozny. In 1999 they temporarily left Chechnya for Ingushetia, but returned in 2000. Her husband was a bus driver. When they returned to Chechnya he resumed his work. The applicant worked as a conductor on the same bus. Usually they worked for two weeks and then had two weeks off.

  7. In March 2001 the applicant’s husband’s employer asked him to work for the two weeks which were supposed to be rest weeks, because the bus station did not have enough buses. He was asked to use his own bus, which was in good condition. The applicant’s husband agreed.

  8. The applicant and her husband worked on route no. 7, which connected the Grozny bus station with Altayskaya Street. It went along Lenin Street and Pobeda Prospekt, which were connected by a bridge over the river Sunzha in the centre of Grozny. The bridge was controlled by, and observed from, two checkpoints of the Russian federal forces.

  9. According to the applicant, in 2001 Russian engineer units checked the main streets of Grozny every morning for explosive devices that might have been installed by rebel fighters. Lenin Street and Pobeda Prospekt were also checked regularly.

  10. In the morning of 6 March 2001 the applicant was working with her husband on route no. 7. When they approached the bridge, it appeared that it had been closed by Russian servicemen. They had therefore to cross another bridge, in Krasnykh Frontovikov Street. They finished the first trip on route no. 7 between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. The applicant enclosed statements by four witnesses, bus drivers G.Sh., U. M. and V.M., and conductor K.M., corroborating that the bridge between Lenin Street and Pobeda Prospekt had been closed by the military that morning, before the explosion. According to the Government, the closure of the bridge in Lenin Street was evidence that an inspection was being carried out, because it was a strategically important area and took a long time to be checked.

  11. In the afternoon the applicant and her husband made another trip on route no. 7 from Altayskaya Street to Grozny bus station. At about 13-14 minutes to 3 p.m., after they had stopped at the central market and had gone further towards the bus station, they saw another no. 7 bus, operated by driver Sh., crossing the bridge. It was followed by buses nos. 1 and 18 and a convoy of military vehicles. The convoy was headed by a tank, which was followed by three or four Ural vehicles and an armoured personnel carrier (hereinafter “the APC”). The convoy went straight on, but the APC turned left near the bridge and stopped.

  12. When the applicant and her husband saw that the bridge was open, they decided not to make a detour into Krasnykh Frontovikov Street, but to drive across the bridge. They approached the bridge two or three minutes after the military convoy had passed through.

  13. Before crossing the bridge bus drivers always had to register at the checkpoint and pay a fee of ten Russian roubles (RUB). At the checkpoint the applicant’s husband stopped the bus, which had some twenty passengers on board, and got out to register and pay the fee. However, the soldier at the checkpoint neither checked his documents nor took the money for the fee, but told the applicant’s husband to move forward quickly.

  14. When the applicant’s husband’s bus moved towards the bridge, he saw another no. 7 bus coming in the opposite direction. Since the bridge was too narrow for two buses, the applicant’s husband stopped to let that bus pass. While the other bus was passing, the applicant was looking at the bridge but noticed nothing suspicious. When their bus moved forward again, there was a powerful explosion at the edge of the bridge under the front left wheel of the bus on the driver’s side.

  15. Immediately after the explosion the military closed the checkpoint and did not allow anybody to approach the bus. The applicant’s brother, V. M., who was also a bus driver, happened to be behind them. When he saw the explosion, he tried to drive through to the bus which had been blown up, to take the wounded to hospital, but was not allowed to by the military, who opened fire on his bus. Three bullets hit the windscreen, and V. M. was forced to make a U-turn. He decided to approach the bridge from the opposite side and drove towards the other bridge in Krasnykh Frontovikov Street to make a detour.

  16. After the explosion, injured and frightened passengers were screaming, and the applicant lost consciousness. When she came back to her senses the last passenger, a woman with a child, was leaving the bus. The applicant asked her to help, because she herself was injured. By that time the bus was surrounded by federal servicemen. She heard one of them saying: “Bastards, they’re getting out alive”.

  17. As the applicant was trying to get out of the bus, one of the servicemen came to help her. He put a tourniquet on her arm to stop the bleeding and bandaged her leg with his belt. Then he carried the applicant out of the bus and put her next to her husband, who was sitting near the wheel which had exploded. It appeared that he had been thrown out of the bus by the blast. He was badly injured and required urgent medical aid.

  18. At that time V. M. was driving along Krasnykh Frontovikov Street There he saw an ambulance driving in the opposite direction. He stopped it and asked its driver to take those injured in the explosion to hospital. The driver agreed and followed V. M.’s bus. They approached the blown-up bus from Lenin Street. However, according to the applicant, the servicemen again refused to let anybody near the bus and fired shots in the air. Nevertheless, V. M. and the ambulance driver ran to the bus. They carried the applicant and her husband to the ambulance and put other passengers in V. M.’s bus. They took them all to Grozny Town Hospital no. 9.

  19. As nobody was allowed near the bus immediately, the applicant’s husband, who was bleeding heavily from numerous shrapnel wounds, was only taken to hospital fifty minutes after the explosion. He died in the hospital fifteen to twenty minutes later. On the same day his relatives took his body from the hospital for burial.

  20. The applicant was also badly injured, in the head, arm and leg. She had surgery, and her left arm was amputated above the elbow. The next day, 7 March 2001, her relatives took her to a hospital in Stariye Atagi. They did not immediately tell her about her husband’s death, to spare her worry while she was recovering. They told her that he had been taken to a hospital in Makhachkala. She was told about his death about a month later when she was feeling better. During the following year the applicant had to undergo outpatient treatment for her injuries, which caused her severe pain.

    1. Criminal investigation

  21. On 6 March 2001, thus on the very day of the explosion, the Grozny Prosecutor’s Office opened investigation file no. 11076 in connection with the explosion. According to the Government, the ground for the initiation of the criminal case was the availability of sufficient information pointing to the signs of the crime under Articles 105 § 1 and 205 § 1 of the Criminal Code. The case was subsequently transferred to the Leninsky District Prosecutor’s Office.

  22. On the same date the investigating authorities examined and photographed the scene of the explosion. They also heard two servicemen of the checkpoint who described the events which had taken place shortly before and after the explosion. It appears from their statements that they could see the bridge well, but none of them had seen “a red car” mentioned in the report of 9 March 2001 on an on-site investigation (see paragraph 24 below). The Government, accepting that the fact that the servicemen could see the bridge well, maintained that this did not mean that the bridge was wholly controlled by the servicemen and that...

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