A Russian federal judge in the Ural city of Chelyabinsk says he was pressured to conceal the illegal detention of a defendant, the forgery of a signature, and to transfer a nonexistent case to court despite the prosecutor’s admission that there was no case against the man. The defendant was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and the judge has since faced administrative harassment from fellow judicial officials.

Unusually, Judge Anton Dolgov decided to make public the story in an interview with the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, whose own journalists have been the target of significant threats and violence. Editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov, was recently a joint recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for the continuing struggle for free journalism.

Dolgov said the case dated to 2018, when he was passed a case in which a 70-year-old man stood accused of both torture and sexual violence against two girls aged seven and eight. “The investigation lasted over a year,” he told the newspaper. “The prosecutor told me that the accusation of torture was utter nonsense,” he said. It simply had not happened, she told him, and she was astonished that the case was launched.

Nonetheless, the prosecutor said that she planned to go ahead and would fully support the prosecution. Dolgov has noted that this itself was illegal.

“We have article 246 (participation of the prosecutor) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which imposes an obligation on the prosecutor to drop the charge in such cases. The prosecutor replied: ‘Well, you understand that this is impossible.’”

Russian women and girls do suffer serious levels of violence and rarely receive justice in cases of sexual or domestic violence. Take the case of the Khachaturian sisters: sisters Kristina, Angelina and Maria were charged with murdering their father who had been sexually abusing and torturing them for a lengthy period. Local child protection agencies had ignored teachers’ concerns about the girls, and yet it was the girls who were ultimately prosecuted. Their father had close ties to the local police force.

Nearly half of all Russian women say that they are most at risk of violence within their home, and many never come forward.

“Victims of rape or sexual assault are redirected to private prosecution, where they have to finance and substantiate their case, carrying all the burden of the proof,” as the Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) recently noted. Rape is the least registered crime in the country. Meanwhile, the government’s attitude is summed up by the 2017 decision to essentially decriminalize certain types of domestic violence.

So why was there such a campaign to convict in this case? “It’s important to note that during the investigation we established that the girl’s mother was in conflict with [the defendant],” Dolgov said. The woman was said to have been abusing alcohol and had an alleged history of child neglect and of selling the defendant’s property. The criminal allegations were apparently made after the man threatened to evict the woman and her children.

Such behavior is of course also known in the Western world, and may simply amount to an attempt to discredit the woman’s testimony. But the case also lacked physical evidence. While the children testified that the man had raped them, “an examination showed that nothing like this had happened to them,” said Dolgov. There was also evidence of forgery of some official paperwork.

“I explained . . . that I was really inclined towards acquittal and briefly explained why. But now I cannot pass any verdict, since I have a non-existent case in the proceedings, so I am obliged to return it to the prosecutor.

Dolgov then lost his krysha (or roof), the ultimate unofficial sanction for uncooperative officials. This is the shield offered by someone’s network, often by organized crime, but also to officials at risk from political consequences. Dolgov said he was told, “you have no krysha in the regional courts now.”

“From that moment on, any of my decisions, any of my verdicts in the regional court were rescinded or changed . . . endlessly.”

The judge says it will be very difficult to sack him — he has not committed a disciplinary offense — but his working life is now much harder.

“I have good relations with my colleagues, but I don’t get involved with big corporate events. I don’t want to sit at the same table as my bosses.”

Aliide Naylor is the author of ‘The Shadow in the East’ (Bloomsbury, 2020). She lived in Russia for several years and is now based in London, working as a journalist, editor and translator.

Europe’s Edge is an online journal covering crucial topics in the transatlantic policy debate. All opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position or views of the institutions they represent or the Center for European Policy Analysis.