Suspects may have been falsely jailed in Russia over pedophile cases

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s plan to chemically castrate convicted pedophiles and introduce other austere measures for those who molest minors are under greater doubt after a recent string of articles in Komsomolskaya Pravda exposed allegedly false expert testimony in pedophilia trials in Moscow.

The newspaper articles, which indicate that a single center licensed only to support young victims of molestation proffered evidence in many cases, has put the government on the defensive in several high profile cases just as it geared up to draw greater attention to the battle against pedophilia.

Methodically working through a list of 151 clinics which provide services for young victims of molestation, the article’s author, Darya Tokareva, came to the conclusion that the Ozon Center was the only one in Moscow that was actively providing analysis for court cases. Already suspecting that the clinic staff was inclined to produce evidence against suspected pedophiles, Tokareva came to the conclusion that the clinic was in fact providing faulty psychological evaluations, and in effect acting as a rubber stamp to please demands from above for more arrests and convictions of pedophiles.

“How did it happen, that Ozon suddenly became an indisputable master of destinies? It turns out, that the conclusions from this center’s psychiatrists are enough to put someone behind bars for a long time,” wrote Tokareva. “You could say: isn’t this great, the law enforcement system is finally fighting those who abuse the underage. Or you can say that in order to get the important results about imprisoned pedophiles and report this upward, where quick and actual steps are demanded – that’ s just what happened in Vladimir Makarov’s case.”

Medvedev’s proposal several months ago to introduce chemical castration served as the first salvo in what has been a chronic campaign to strengthen punishments for pedophilia that in some cases has trickled down to local, vigilante campaigns. In the past two years, whereas pedophilia was hardly a widespread concern (or perhaps intentionally ignored), it became a widespread issue.

Earlier this year, for instance, the Yekaterinburg Parents Committee was handing out 100,000 ruble bounties to anyone who handed over a pedophile, and ultimately gave away 13 of the cash awards.

Tokareva claims that the Ozon Center put forth key information in many pedophilia cases, and the verdicts handed down in pedophilia cases have now been put under close public scrutiny. In the most notable trial this September, Vladimir Makarov was convicted of raping his young daughter and sentenced to 13 years in jail.

Among the evidence that convicted Makarov was his daughter’s drawing of a cat with a tail that Leila Sokolova, a psychologist at the clinic, called phallic. Her testimony played a key role in establishing that a rape took place, argued Tokareva. With many already skeptical of the verdict, bloggers unearthed a series of photos of Sokolova in tight fitting black leather outfits brandishing a whip; her comments on online forums exposed her as a dominatrix, lesbian and “inclined toward sadism.” While that information may not discount her testimonies legally, the court of public opinion, fueled by articles in the press, has already passed judgment.

Pavel Astakhov

At least in Makarov’s case, the publicity has forced the Russian Ombudsman for Children’s Rights, Pavel Astakhov, to review the evidence presented in the trial and, if the procedure was violated, he said he would be willing to take the case all the way up to the Russian Supreme Court. Yet this is a minor victory for those who have been proclaiming Makarov’s innocence: Astakhov balanced that promising public statement by saying that Makarov’s daughter’s right to privacy had certainly been violated to the point where people knew her “not only by name, but by face,” in an obvious sleight against the press’ monitoring of the case.

Journalists and commentators have had to walk a careful line while covering this case. Even the Komsomolskaya Pravda article, which attacked the clinic aggressively, nonetheless had to explicitly make the point that the article was focusing on poor judicial practices and not in support of lighter sentences for child molesters.

For many, however, the campaign against pedophilia continues to represent a search for an issue that may resonate with voters before upcoming elections, rather than a serious attempt to protect minors. “I am in no way going to justify the scoundrels who corrupt children,” wrote Echo of Moscow blogger Kirill Shulika, perhaps sensing trouble but deciding to hit the “post” button anyway. “If every day before the evening news Channel One shows a woman who fought with her daughter and kicked out her son-in-law, and then another report on a sixth grader giving birth with complications, then it’s completely logical to make the fight against pedophilia into the main point of your election campaign,” Shulika wrote.

Rather than fealty to any party, however, the recent spate of pedophilia convictions has many people scared. Beyond the revelations about “Ozon’s” creative psychological evaluations, there have also been accusations of a technician doctoring lie detector tests, doctors planting evidence, and a court system that is more than happy to convict as many alleged pedophiles as they see. That fear makes the current cure to Russia’s pedophiles perhaps more dangerous than the problem itself.

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