Russia Fined Over 2012 Arrest of Top Opposition Leader

Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny speaks during a protest in Moscow last year. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

STRASBOURG, France (CN) — Russia violated the rights of opposition politician Alexei Navalny by violently arresting him during an election protest eight years ago, the European Court of Human Rights ruled Tuesday. 

The Strasbourg-based court found that the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic had a chilling effect on political opposition in the country and Russia failed to uphold its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.

Tuesday’s case is unrelated to Navalny’s poisoning earlier this year, which put the former lawyer in a week-long coma. Rather, it dates back to a 2012 demonstration, called the March of Millions, against allegedly rigged presidential elections in the Russian Federation.

Navalny was arrested with another man, Vadim Gunko, during the initially peaceful demonstration that eventually turned violent when police began cordoning off protestors. 

“Navalny’s brutal arrest, as well as his subsequent administrative conviction, had a chilling effect, discouraging him and others from attending protest rallies or indeed from engaging actively in opposition politics,” the seven-judge panel unanimously ruled. 

The opposition leader is currently recovering after falling ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August. Russia initially refused to allow him to be transferred to a European hospital for treatment, but eventually relented.

Labs in the European Union found that he was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok, though Russian claims the dissident is instead suffering from pancreatitis. Last month, the EU announced it would sanction Russia over the incident. The Kremlin has a history of poisoning those who speak out against the government. 

“We won another case against Putin’s servants in judicial robes and police uniforms,” Navalny tweeted in Russian on Tuesday. 

Russia argued that Navalny and Gunko refused to listen to police orders during the protest, but the human rights court found there was no evidence that either man had resisted arrest. Video of Navalny’s arrest showed that he did not resist, but rather “one of the police officers had forcefully twisted his arm with such force as to make him scream,” according to the ruling.

In the 2016 case Frumkin v Russia, which involved other protesters arrested at the same demonstration, the court found that the Russian authorities “made insufficient efforts to communicate with the assembly organizers to resolve the tension….The failure to take simple and obvious steps at the first signs of the conflict allowed it to escalate, leading to the disruption of the previously peaceful assembly.”

The court reiterated that decision on Tuesday and held the arrest of Navalny and Gunko “constituted an interference with their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” 

Both men were charged with disobeying a lawful order of the police, detained overnight and fined. They contested the charges and Navalny brought a complaint alleging police misconduct. Russian courts upheld the convictions and threw out Navalny’s complaint. 

The European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay Navalny 8,500 euros ($10,000) and Gunko 8,500 euros ($9,000). Navalny has vowed to return to Russia after his recovery and continue his work. 

The court was established by the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the civil and political rights of those living in its 47 member states. It is considered a court of last resort, so applicants must first exhaust their options in their national courts before filing a complaint in Strasbourg.

This isn’t the first time Russia has been forced to defend its treatment of Navalny before the human rights court. Last year, Moscow was ordered to pay him $22,550 for placing him under house arrest in 2014. The year before, the court slammed Russia for “suppressing political pluralism” by repeatedly arresting Navalny on baseless charges. 

%d bloggers like this: