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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Court Restricts Cremation of Terror Suspects

MTPsomiady, a lawyer for relatives of suspects linked to a 2005 raid on Nalchik, speaking to reporters in court Thursday.
The Constitutional Court said Thursday that the government can seize the bodies of slain terror suspects but cannot cremate them without a court order.

The long-awaited ruling followed an impassioned argument from lawyers representing relatives of suspects whose remains were cremated clandestinely last year, an eloquent speech from a government lawyer and an outburst from Deputy Justice Minister Vladimir Kolesnikov that earned a court rebuke.

All parties expressed satisfaction with the court decision.

"Although the ruling changes nothing for my clients, whose children's bodies has been cremated already, it at least gives others a chance to obtain bodies through court in similar circumstances," said Tatyana Psomiady, a lawyer representing relatives of suspects linked to a 2005 raid on Nalchik.

She said her clients would demand compensation since the bodies were cremated without court authorization.

More than 90 suspected Islamist militants as well as 35 police and military officers and 12 civilians died in the October 2005 raid on government and law enforcement offices in the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria.

The Constitutional Court heard that the bodies of the suspected militants were kept in a Nalchik morgue for six months, and each time relatives asked for them, they were told that the bodies could not be handed over until the deceased had been cleared of terrorism charges. At the same time, Nalchik courts refused to hear appeals to clear the dead people's names.

A group of relatives filed a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights last year, arguing that the refusal to turn over the remains violated their constitutional rights. Many said their loved ones had been wrongly identified as attackers.

In response to a request from the European court, the government said the bodies of 95 suspects had been cremated last June 22. The government said it had acted under a law passed after Moscow's Dubrovka hostage crisis in 2002 that says, "Such persons are to be buried by specialized services dealing with funerals. ... The bodies of such persons shall not be handed over for burial, and the place of their burial shall not be disclosed."

Two lawyers came from Nalchik to challenge the law in the Constitution Court. They squared off against an imposing team of representatives of the president, the State Duma, the Federation Council, the federal government, the Justice Ministry, the Federal Security Service and the Prosecutor General's Office.

Lawyer Larisa Dorogova argued that in line with the presumption of innocence, no person can be condemned as a criminal without a court ruling, and as long as guilt has not been established, authorities have no right to hold a person's body. She also said the law contradicted a law on religious freedom that allows people to be buried in conformance with their religious norms.

"Why did the innocent relatives of the dead have no chance to hold a religious ceremony for their dear ones?" said Dorogova, who wore a black hijab, which many Russians associate with terrorists, in court.

The law aimed to prevent terrorism and not to turn the terrorists' graves into places of pilgrimage, Duma representative Yelena Mizulina said. She said other countries like Spain, the Netherlands and Germany hold the bodies of terrorists for two or more years.

Kolesnikov, an outspoken former deputy prosecutor general, loudly asserted that the relatives' appeal was nothing more than an attempt by global terrorism to "raise up its head." One of the judges rebuked him, and chief justice Valery Zorkin asked that the volume on his microphone be turned down.

In a speech, Mikhail Barshevsky, who represented the federal government, said if Osama bin Laden would not be considered a terrorist if he were killed before a court conviction. He insisted that fundamental freedoms could not be applied to terrorists.

Judge Yury Rudkin asked representatives from the legislative branch to explain why a suspect's body is currently turned over to relatives if he dies in custody before a conviction and why this procedure does not apply to slain suspects.

Barshevsky replied that the law was far from perfect because it had been drafted hurriedly after Dubrovka. It was passed in 2003.

The Constitutional Court ruled that the law did not contradict the Constitution, which provides for certain rights to be limited in terrorism, but ordered the Duma to pass an amendment guaranteeing that bodies would not be cremated without a court decision.

Asked after Thursday's ruling why she had taken on the government over the law, Dorogova said, "It was just impossible to bear the lawlessness any more."