Trial Witnesses Under Pressure in Russia

In the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, we’ve seen a long record of witness harassment, threats, and intimidation – including the medical blackmail against Vasily Aleksanyan to procure false testimony, and the story of torture against Antonio Valdez-Garcia.  Beyond the Yukos case, instances of witness interference are rife.  Today in the Los Angeles Times, Megan K. Stack has a story about the witness Vera Bobryakova, and other victims of Russia’s corrupt judicial system:

When Medvedev took office and launched his campaign against the legal chaos, the organized-crime division was broken into two units: a “division to combat extremism” and what is now the witness protection program.

These changes were accompanied by a hearty propaganda push. Eager to drum up confidence in the witness protection effort, state news has held up Vera Bobryakova as a success story.

The short-order cook’s troubles began when gangsters hired her husband to drive a car freighted with stolen gold to the restive province of Ingushetia. On his way south, he absconded with his cargo, went into hiding and stopped answering his phone.

Infuriated, gangstersstalked the couple’s home, kidnapped their 2-year-old daughter, threw afake grenade through a window and slit the throats of their dogs. Thechild was set free, but for months she cowered from men and remainedsilent, too traumatized to talk, her mother says.

When the ganghunted down Bobryakova’s husband, he called the police and cut a deal.He agreed that he and his wife would testify against two members of thegang, and they were moved into the witness protection program.

TheBobryakovs sent their children to live with her parents, sold theirhouse and took up residence in a police station. The head of the gangwas sentenced to five years. Spotting Bobryakova in the courtroom, hesaid to her, “Some time will pass and I’ll get out, and we’ll meetagain.”

Once the trial was over, the Bobryakovs said theyreceived a letter informing them that they’d been dropped from thewitness protection program.

“Then we lost all hope of evergetting our life back,” Bobryakova says. “We realized that thegovernment had washed its hands of us, and didn’t really want toprotect us.”

The danger is compounded because the couple is still expected to testify in a second trial.

“They’llcome back sooner or later, and they’ll find me,” Bobryakova says of thegang members. “They know where I am. And I know I’ll get no protectionthis time.”

Bobryakova was particularly outraged when Russianstate television featured her family in a documentary about Medvedev’spush for witness protection.

“The program was totallyoutrageous,” she says. “The point of it was that the state saved us andhelped us in everything, and that it was only because of the witnessprogram that we survived.”