[JURIST] The Council of Europe [official website] on Tuesday urged Russian President Vladimir Putin [press release] to extend preliminary reforms of the judicial system of the Russian Federation in order to strengthen the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. The announcement includes the findings of an investigation [report, PDF] into the administration of justice and protection of human rights in the Russian Federation, conducted in April 2013 by the the Commissioner for Human Rights within the Council of Europe. The investigation noted substantial progress in the area of legislation reform and procedural efficiency. However, the report presents concern over several aspects of the judiciary system and human rights concerns over the treatment of prisoners. The suggested areas of judicial reform include: improvements to the appointment and sanction process for judges, balancing of the overwhelming power of the Prosecutor's office, simplifications to court proceedings when the defendant does not contest the charges, and improved efforts to investigate serious crimes in the North Caucasus region. In terms of human rights, the report emphasizes the value of communication between the civil and human rights groups in the country. Further, it addresses the long-standing problem of torture and ill-treatment of prisoners and it discouraged the practice of extraditing foreigners that will likely undergo torture in the receiving country.
The Russian judicial system has been criticized for using its courts as a tool for political punishment. Tuesday's announcement follows international criticism of Putin over the conviction of a number of his opponents, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny, and members of the feminist rock band Pussy Riot [JURIST news archive]. In October a Russian appeals court upheld the conviction [JURIST report] of embezzlement against Navalny but suspended his five-year jail sentence. In July a court in Russia denied an appeal [JURIST report] by Maria Alekhina, a member of Pussy Riot. Also in July UN human rights experts voiced their concern [JURIST report] over charges brought by Russian prosecutors against two Russian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), following their involvement with the UN Committee against Torture.