Alexei Navalny is a Russian political activist and lawyer, who is also currently the leader of the Russia of the Future party. According to the New York Times, he is “arguably Vladimir’s most serious foe,”, though the Russian government has frequently dismissed him as a political nobody. He attempted to run in the 2018 Russian Presidential election though his campaign was banned based on a corruption charge of embezzlement (which the ECHR questioned). In 2012 he was arrested twice: once for protesting against Vladimir Putin’s election, and once for meeting at an informal gathering with others to discuss current affairs. Later in 2014, he was arrested again. This time it was for attending a demonstration peacefully protesting the trial of activists involved in the mass disorder. Mr Navalny complains that these arrests infringe his right to liberty, his right to a fair trial and his right to peaceful assembly.
The Grand Council examined each breach individually. For Article 5 of the ECHR, the right to liberty, the Grand Council found that Mr Navalny had been detained for an unreasonably long amount of time. Though the Russian government stated this was due to an administrative delay (paperwork apparently couldn’t be done on the spot) the court found there was no good reason to detain Mr Navalny for so long. Next, for Article 6, the fair trial, the Court found that the majority of Mr Navalny’s trials had not been conducted fairly. For Mr Navalny’s right to peaceful assembly under Article 11, the court contended that they could see no legitimate reason for blocking Mr Navalny’s protests. They stated that none of the protests threatened a disruption to ordinary life at any stage and that in any democratic society, a government had to show tolerance to peaceful demonstrations. The Grand Council said that the authorities showed disregard for the principle that “the enforcement of rules governing public assemblies should not become an end in itself,”. They also noted that the sanctions against Mr Navalny had been criminal, even though the acts had been inherently political and Mr Navalny had committed no antisocial acts. The arrests had been by and large politically motivated.
The court ordered Russia to pay Mr Navalny €63,000 in damages. It also advised Russia to help create legislation which would guard the fundamental right of peaceful assembly. Navalny stated that he is happy with the ruling, calling it ‘genuine justice’. But on a bittersweet note, he added that he expects Russia to ignore the ruling. However, despite this refuge in cynicism Mr Navalny has scored a victory. In the eyes of a justice, he is not a criminal but a political activist, a status Russia has tried to suppress. In this author’s opinion he deserves the title and in fact, deserves the even rarer one of ‘hero’. Mr Navalny’s continued work to bring justice to Russia is a Herculean task but it is a task worthy of a man of his calibre.
By Daniel Forde – Law Editor