STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court found that Russia was wrong to revoke a man’s nationality for not listing all of his siblings on a citizenship form.
The Russian Federation violated Bakhtiyer Usmanov’s right to privacy and family life when it revoked his citizenship because he had omitted the names of his siblings on his naturalization application, the European Court of Human Rights held on Tuesday.
“The government did not demonstrate why the applicant’s failure to submit information about some of his siblings was of such gravity to justify deprivation of Russian citizenship several years after the applicant had obtained it,” the Strasbourg-based court wrote.
Usmanov was born in Tajikistan and moved to Russia in 2007, together with his wife and children. In 2008, he was granted Russian citizenship under a fast-track procedure for the citizens of the former Society Union.
Nearly 10 years later, however, the Ministry of the Interior moved to have his citizenship annulled, claiming that he had submitted false information on his citizenship application by not including the names of all of his brothers and sisters. But according to Usmanov, a duty officer at the Federal Migration Service told him it wasn’t necessary to list all of his siblings on his naturalization paperwork.
In revoking his citizenship, Russia gave Usmanov less than a week to leave the country with orders not to reenter for 35 years. Usmanov challenged the decision, unsuccessfully, in the Russian courts. He was arrested in 2018 for refusing to leave Russian and remains in detention.
The rights court was created by a 1953 international treaty, with Russia included, to hears cases on political freedom and human rights. It is a court of last resort, so applicants must first complete all legal options in their home country before bringing a complaint.
Usmanov’s lawyers argued that he had no way of knowing his citizenship could be revoked because the Russian law only stipulates that for people who knowingly submit false information. “The Court notes that to meet the requirements of the Convention, a law should be formulated in clear terms. If a person’s citizenship may be annulled or revoked for submitting false information or concealing information by that person, the law should specify the nature of that information,” the court wrote.
Moscow meanwhile argued before the court that its laws required applicants to provide an “exhaustive” list of relatives to the government. It said Usmanov’s refusal to leave Russia showed that he was a security risk to the country.
The court ordered Russia to pay Usmanov 11,000 euros ($13,500) in damages and costs.
“Overall, in those two sets of the proceedings it was not convincingly established that the threat which the applicant allegedly posed to national security outweighed the fact that he had been living in Russia for a considerable period of time in a household with a Russian national, with whom he had four children, two of whom had been born in Russia,” the seven-judge panel found. “This is particularly relevant given that during his stay in Russia the applicant had not committed any offences.”
Russia has a history of arbitrarily stripping nationality from naturalized citizens. In July, two men had their citizenship revoked for being practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses, a religion banned in Russia.
Earlier this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a bill that created a simplified procedure for foreigners who wish to become Russian citizens. Among other changes, it is no longer required for applicants to give up their nationality of origin to become Russian.