NEWS RELEASES – On January 24th, the International Center for Peace and Human Rights (CIPADH) attended the Navalnyy v. Russia hearing at the European Court for Human Rights (ECHR), in Strasbourg (France). This report debriefs on the arguments presented by the opposing parties, as well as the case's implications for human rights.
The applicant’s claims
The hearing began with a brief exposition of the charges at hand by the court’s president, Guido Raimondi. He stated the applicant’s (Aleksey Navalnyy) occupations – Russian political activist, leader of the opposition, anti-corruption militant, and blogger- before enumerating the circumstances of his seven police arrests, which occurred between 2012 and 2014 in his home country. These apprehensions are the reason for Navalnyy’s appeal to the ECHR.
The applicant and his defense team subsequently exposed their arguments, with a particular focus on Articles 5 (right to liberty and security), 6 (right to a fair trial), 11 (freedom of assembly and association), 14 (prohibition of discrimination) and 18 (limitation on use of restriction on rights) of the European Convention of Human Rights. Navalnyy’s attorneys Anna Naralyan and Olga Mikhaylova claimed their client’s human rights had been violated in the event of his numerous apprehensions, during which he was denied the right to peaceful assembly and was victim of discriminatory treatment, being specifically targeted by the Russian police and denied a fair trial. Indeed, they defended the applicant was not engaging in aggressive behavior, but was rather punished for his political views that are “contrary to those of the ruling party”. In addition, Maralyan acknowledged Navalnyy’s banning from access to state media and prevention from running in the 2018 presidential election. According to her, the applicant’s inability to participate in Russian political life constitutes a threat to democracy.
Following these statements, Aleksey Navalnyy himself spoke to the inconsistencies he notes between European justice and the Russian government’s political positions. He commented on the country’s justice minister’s claim that the European Court had failed to find human rights violations in his 2017 hearing, by virtue of the lack of mentions to Article 18 violations. The applicant consequently made it clear that this very article was key to the present hearing, whose recognition of its infringement would contribute in denouncing his country’s “political propaganda”. Finally, he defended that the true motive behind his repeated arrests was to deny him the right to take part in the 2018 presidential elections, as his candidacy would complicate Vladimir Putin’s victory.
The defendant’s claims
The Russian government’s defense lawyer, Mikhail Galperin, then responded to these allegations by indicating that the protests during which Navalnyy had been apprehended had been unauthorized by the government, and that they represented a danger for public security. It was asserted that the applicant had been provoking unrest, had ignored “lawful” government orders, and was thereafter portraying himself as a victim to diminish his offenses and gain popularity. Concerning the apprehension itself, Galperin maintained that “the police had applied the law as best they could”, using “sensible and conventional law enforcement”. Finally, he argued Navalnyy is not excluded from Russian political life, as he is granted access to important platforms such as his blog or his Youtube channel, about 75% of his requests to organize protests have been accepted in past years, and he was permitted to run in the recent parliamentary elections. The representative for the Russian government concluded by saying “we hope the law will not encourage the applicant’s provocations, as he clearly wants to be arrested”.
During the judges’ question period, Navalnyy responded to these accusations by denying causing unrest, and disputing that he had very clearly been targeted, as he was the only person apprehended - right upon his arrival - during the protests. Furthermore, he indicated that the “75% authorization rate” information was a clear manipulation of fact, as although the numbers were theoretically correct, these events were solely permitted in secluded places, and consistently prohibited in major cities like Moscow or St-Petersburg.
Implications for human rights
From the arguments presented by both parties, it is clear that the Russian government’s defense is centered on domestic laws, which have presumably not been violated. Nonetheless, in his plea, Aleksey Navalnyy invited the ECHR judges to consider the entire domestic, European, and international political context, instead of concentrating on the seven specific cases. This therefore suggests that although the Russian government’s positions seem to align with the country’s legislation, the present issue may reside in Russia’s legal system itself, which is potentially inconsistent with the European Convention.
The date of the delivery of the judges’ decision is still unknown at this time.
By Manon Arundhati Fabre – Research Assistant at CIPADH