In a story that has become distressingly familiar, it has been revealed that a man in the Yaroslavl region may have been wrongly convicted of paedophilia. The case against him was built on the fact that he got out of his car to urinate by the roadside while on a long trip (public rest areas on most Russian roads still don't exist) - and children happened to wander by and see him do it.
Accused of lewd acts by policemen he originally called in to help clarify the situation to the children's father, he was eventually asked to pay a bribe of 200,000 roubles, admit his guilt, and get time served. When he complained, evidence was falsified, linking him to an unsolved case involving another flasher. He got seven years in prison and is currently fighting to have his verdict overturned - even as the investigators who falsified the evidence have already been fired for their role in the case.
This horrific case, as reported by Noviye Izvestiya, highlights several problems of law enforcement in Russia. First of all, there is corruption - that goes without saying.
Then there are the well-intentioned top-down initiatives in government - such as the directive to hunt down paedophiles - which result in officers running around in search of people to lock up. Nobody wants to get reprimanded for laxness, after all. And if you ruin a few lives - so what? Law enforcement does not feel particularly accountable to the public - though that part may slowly be changing.
Finally, there is the problem of a criminal justice system that is loath to admit its errors - even as judges continue to work in tandem with prosecutors. It's not an official tandem, of course, but it's a kind of informal, cozy relationship that dates back to the USSR. This is why even a case full of blatant errors is likely to ensure a conviction.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions - and the anti-paedophile drive has sadly been no different. Decent initiatives run up against an enormous and insatiable criminal justice machine. The people making up its cogs and wheels aren't evil monsters - most are simply jaded and overly concerned with pleasing their bosses. It's easier for them to go with the flow.
Until this decades-old trend is reversed, the criminal justice system will not gain public trust.
First published in the Moscow news.
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