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Rights court condemns Russia for charges against elderly activist

Tatyana Kotlyar, a 71-year-old human rights defender, has spent years helping migrants in Russia, which has landed her in hot water with the government.

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Europe’s top rights court sided with a Russian activist on Tuesday, criticizing Moscow for bringing criminal charges against her for giving aid to migrants. 

The European Court of Human Rights found that Russian authorities violated the fair-trial rights of 71-year-old Tatyana Kotlyar by repeatedly charging her for violating the law retroactively. The septuagenarian had been allowing migrants to register at her apartment in order to access social services. 

Kotlyar, currently working as a member of the Obninsk Town Council, had allowed several hundred migrants to register at the apartment she shares with her husband in Obninsk, a city southwest of Moscow that is home to around 100,000 people. The migrants were mostly from former Soviet states, including Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Moldova, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine.

Under Russian law, people need a residential address to enroll their children in school, obtain a job or register for social services. Landlords, however, often refuse to allow tenants to register at the address where they live in order to avoid paying income tax on rental properties and foreign migrants are especially vulnerable.

Kotlyar, who started her career as a math teacher, was charged multiple times in 2014, 2017 and 2019 with providing “fictitious residence registration.” 

The legislation banning this type of registration, however, didn’t come into effect until 2014 and many of the incidents had occurred before the law was active. Kotlyar argued the charges violated Article 7 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which established the rights court in 1959. The article forbids ex post facto criminalization, or convicting someone of a crime that didn’t exist when their actions took place. 

The Strasbourg-based court said Tuesday it was clear that a number of the registrations took place before the act was criminalized.

“The criminal proceedings were only initiated after the new law had entered into force, and initially only in respect of the three instances of 'fictitious registration' that had taken place after the date of its entry into force,” the seven-judge panel wrote.

Kotlyar was awarded 6,000 euros ($6,000) in damages, but it’s unclear if she will ever see any compensation. The Council of Europe, which oversees the court, expelled Russia in March following its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

When taking questions about another ruling from the European Court of Human Rights last month, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters “Russia no longer implements these decisions.”

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