European Court of Human Rights rules in case of Nizhny Novgorod human rights defender Stanislav Dmitrievsky

posted 20 Oct 2017, 09:24 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 20 Oct 2017, 09:25 ]
3 October 2017 

Source: [original source: Committee Against Torture

Photo: Stanislav Dmitrievsky holds the newspaper for which he was prosecuted in 2006

On 3 October 2017 the European Court of Human Rights issued a judgment in the case of Stanislav Dmitrievsky, who had complained about a violation by Russia of his rights under Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights (freedom of expression). The Court in Strasbourg ruled that the Russian Federation violated Dmitrievsky’s right to freedom of expression and awarded him 10,000 euros in moral compensation. Olga Sadovskaya, the lawyer from the Committee Against Torture acting for Dmitrievsky, said that today’s judgment may become the basis for a review of Dmitrievsky’s criminal conviction for extremism. 

The application by Stanislav Dmitrievsky concerned his conviction under Article 282 of the Russian Criminal Code (Incitement of hatred or enmity, including abasement of human dignity) for publishing in the newspaper Pravo-zashchita, of which he was editor, statements by Aslan Maskhadov and Akmed Zakaev. Both statements contained criticism of the Russian authorities in relation to the then on-going military conflict in the Chechen Republic. The texts were found to be extremist, and for their publication Dmitrievsky was given a two-year suspended prison sentence. 

Dmitrievsky and his lawyer insisted that his conviction violated his freedom of speech as laid down in Article 10 of the European Convention. Today the European Court of Huma Rights has completely concurred with this view. 

The Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, that published Pravo-Zashchita and was also ruled by the Russian courts to be extremist, on more than one occasion assisted the Committee Against Torture in collecting information about human rights violations committed primarily by military personnel during the first and second Chechen conflicts. 

The decision to launch the criminal prosecution of Stanislav Dmitrievsky was taken by the prosecutor of Nizhny Novgorod region, Vladimir Demidov, on the basis of an expert opinion of the texts provided by Olga Khokhlysheva, the head of the department of world politics and international law at Nizhny Novgorod State University. Her expertise contained a description of Dmitrievsky that was, in his opinion, insulting and discriminatory. 

Moreover, an analysis of the case found that the record of the trial signed by Judge Bondarenko did not correspond to what had in reality taken place in the court room, and, therefore, the charges were based on statements that had been distorted. 

In today’s judgment, the European Court of Human Rights focused particular attention on the status of the applicant, the nature of the articles he published and the language used in them, the context in which they were published, and also the approach of the Russian courts in justifying intervention. 

As a result, the European Court concluded that the statements of opinion in the articles cannot be considered as incitement of violence, nor interpreted as incitement of hatred or intolerance that could provoke any kind of acts of violence. The Court found nothing in the texts in question except criticism of the Russian government and its actions in the Chechen Republic, criticism that did not exceed permitted limits. 

The Court also pointed out that the decisions of national courts in the Dmitrievsky case were not well-founded: the courts not only did not present corresponding and sufficient arguments for the conviction of the applicant, but also declined all the arguments in defence of the applicant as “inadmissible from a legal point of view,” stating that this was his “attempt to protect himself from punishment.” The European Court of Human Rights concluded that Dmitrievsky was deprived of his right to legal defence to which he had the right with respect to Article 10 of the Convention. 

Moreover, the Court pointed out that the conviction of the applicant and the use of severe sanctions against him could have a negative influence on the freedom of expression of journalists in Russia and prevent the press from openly discussing questions that are of public interest, including those related to the conflict in the Chechen Republic. 

“It is important that the conviction of Dmitrievsky was one of the first (and perhaps the very first) of this kind. And this marked the beginning of an attack on freedom of expression in Russia,” Olga Sadovskaya said. “I hope that the position taken by the European Court of Human Rights on the basis of a review of this case will be further developed in other decisions in cases concerning the wrongful use of Article 282 with regard to publications that are solely exercising the right to freedom of expression, and nothing else. Today’s decision of the Court may also serve as grounds for a reconsideration of the criminal prosecution of Dmitrievsky.”