The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russian authorities’ arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were politically motivated, a decision that deals a blow to the Kremlin’s dismissal of Navalny as a mere troublemaker.
Navalny hailed the ruling as an example of “genuine justice” and said it is an important signal for many people in Russia who face arbitrary detentions for their political activities.
The court’s highest chamber found that Russian authorities violated multiple human rights in detaining Navalny seven times from 2012 to 2014, and that two of the arrests were expressly aimed at “suppressing political pluralism.”
It ordered Russia to pay Navalny 63,000 euros ($71,000) in damages, and called on Russia to fix legislation to “take due regard of the fundamental importance of the right to peaceful assembly.”
The ruling is final and binding on Russia as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog.
“I’m very pleased with this ruling — this is genuine justice,” Navalny told reporters after the hearing. “This ruling is very important not only for me but also for many people in Russia who face similar arrests on a daily basis.”
Russia is obliged to carry out the court’s rulings, which enforce the European Convention on Human Rights, but it has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued against them as encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.
Navalny told reporters that he expects the Russian government to ignore this ruling and dismiss it on political grounds.
Navalny, arguably Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most serious foe, has been convicted of fraud in two separate trials that have been widely viewed as political retribution for his investigations of official corruption and his leading role in staging anti-government protests.
Over the years, Navalny has been detained by the police multiple times. In what has become almost a routine, police nab him outside his home or as he makes his way to an anti-government protest that he has organized. He has spent more than 140 days behind bars in the past year and a half.
The Kremlin routinely dismisses Navalny, who garnered a quarter of the vote at the 2013 Moscow mayoral election, as a troublemaker with no political backing.
Russia’s representative to the ECHR, Deputy Justice Minister Mikhail Galperin, argued during a hearing earlier this year that Navalny’s arrests were all justified and that his unauthorized rallies put public security at risk. He suggested Navalny staged his arrests to get media attention.
Navalny was present for the announcement in the court’s headquarters in the French city of Strasbourg, after a last-minute legal problem delayed his arrival.
In an initial ruling last year, the European court said that his past arrests were unlawful, but didn’t rule on Navalny’s arguments that the arrests were politically motivated. The Russian government and Navalny both appealed, and the case went to the court’s Grand Chamber.
Navalny mounted a grass-roots presidential campaign last year before he was officially barred from running in this year’s election, which Putin overwhelmingly won.
About a third of the court’s cases last year involved Russia, and of 305 judgments concerning Russia in 2017, 293 found at least one rights violation.
SOURCE: The Associated Press