Concern has been voiced over Spain’s human rights record, in particular “unfair” detention conditions and extensive pre-trial detention of suspects, during the Universal Periodic Review of Spain at the UN in Geneva on 22 January.
The EU member state has been accused of “failing to abide” by international standards concerning fair trials.
During the plenary session of Spain’s UPR, the UK raised the issue of Spain’s perceived failure to comply with international standards concerning fair trials through a series of targeted questions.
Over the last 15 years, the European Parliament and Council of Europe, in particular its Committee of Prevention of Torture (CPT), have expressed similar complaints.
During the whole process leading to Spain’s UPR, the case of a respected businessman and his family arrested and illegally kept in pre-trial detention, was repeatedly highlighted through written and oral statements, and other forms of advocacy by several civil society organizations.
Vladimir Kokorev and his wife Yulia, both in their 60s, and their 33-year old son Igor were held in lengthy pre-trial detention for more than two years.
The family had, the UN was told, initially no access to their case file (a regime in Spain called “secreto de sumario”).
Spanish judicial secrecy, its duration, unwarranted use and that it hinders the provision of a proper defence were also issues raised by the UK delegation at the UN in its questionnaire to its counterparts from Spain. Similarly, UK also expressed concern regarding measures to ensure that defendants in Spain are granted timely and effective access to counsel ahead of preliminary court hearings.
The Kokorevs were also subject to “particularly harsh” prison conditions. The regime, normally reserved for terrorists, terrorist suspects and violent criminals, is known as FIES. This stands for The Register of Prisoners requiring Special or Ficheros de Internos de Especial Seguimiento.
In addition to the case being aired at the UN, Scott Crosby, a Brussels lawyer, has raised the case of Vladimir Kokorev at the European Court of Human Rights.
All three family members were imprisoned in late 2015 and detained until late 2017 in two cases and until early 2018 in the other on what Crosby calls “vaguely worded” suspicion of money-laundering. None of the family has a criminal record.
No formal charges were brought and, says Crosby, “nor could they be laid because there was no evidence that the Kokorevs had handled illicitly generated money”. Despite the fact that five years have now passed since their arrest, no trial date has yet been fixed, and no member of the family has been formally indicted.
The case, and Spain’s “repeated abuse” of detainees, has also been condemned by a group of Spanish lawyers (CAPS). In its submission to the UN, the group accuses the Spanish judiciary of using trumped up charges of money laundering to mandate “unjust” lengthy pretrial imprisonment.
After the Kokorev case came to the attention of a group of Members of the European Parliament the family members were eventually released without bail from pre-trial detention. But the Kokorev family are now currently subject to what is called “territorial confinement” which restricts their freedom of movement on Las Palmas de Gran Canaria where they reside.
They cannot leave the island and are required to report weekly to a local court. These restrictions have now been in place more than two years after their “release” from custody.
Over the past two years the defence counsel has demonstrated that fabricated evidence was used to justify the pretrial detention of the family, but the Spanish authorities have flatly refused to examine the allegations against the police and to review their work, mirroring concerns regarding the lack of “accountability” of “state police and security officers at all levels” in Spain expressed by the UK delegation at Geneva.
Leading Brussels-based group Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) has also raised the issue, travelling to the island last year to conduct an investigation into the FIES system and its alleged misuse in the case of the arrest and imprisonment of the Kokorev family.
The HRWF team spoke to the family, their lawyer and representatives of the trade union of the prison guards.
Willy Fautré, director of HRWF, states that “Spanish law has been misappropriated and is now being imposed on non-violent and non-dangerous persons resulting in unfair detention conditions and extensive pre-trial detention periods.”
Further pressure on Spain has now been brought to bear at the UN in Geneva where the UK delegation had many uncomfortable questions to ask their Spanish counterparts.
Spain will soon have to answer these and other disturbing questions in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review.