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Russia: Court judgement looms in ‘right to protest’ complaint

Tomorrow, the European Court will deliver its judgement in a human rights complaint against Russia over the right to a peaceful protest.

The decision in the case Lashmankin and Others v. Russia (nos. 57818/09, 51169/10, 4618/11, 19700/11, 31040/11, 47609/11, 55306/11, 59410/11, 7189/12, 16128/12, 16134/12, 20273/12, 51540/12, 64243/12 and 37038/13) will be announced o 7 february.

The applicants are 23 Russian nationals who were born between 1941 and 1990, and live in Russia. They allege that the local authorities imposed restrictions on the location, time or manner of conduct of peaceful assemblies planned by them, without any proper justification.

The proposed assemblies were as follows: a picket on 31 January 2009 near the Memorial to the Victims of Political Repression in Yuri Gagarin Park, Samara, to commemorate the shooting of the human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and the journalist Anastatsia Baburova;

a march on the anniversary of these shootings, on 19 January 2010; two different pickets on 24 August 2009, at the Prefects of the Northern and Central Administrative District of Moscow, to protest about electoral violations and discrimination against certain groups;

a march between Tverskoy Boulevard and Pushkin Square on 20 March 2010, to protest about the governance of Moscow; a gay pride march and meeting in the centre of St Petersburg on 26 June 2010; on the same day, a picket in four different administrative districts of St Petersburg;

a gay pride march and meeting in St Petersburg on 25 June 2011; a picket in front of the Kaliningrad Regional Interior Department headquarters in May 2010, in support of government policies to fight corruption, reform the police, detect ‘werewolves in epaulettes’ and eradicate crime;

a meeting on 20 March 2011 in Kaliningrad to protest against a police state and demand the resignation of Prime Minister Putin; a picket on 12 June 2009 in the centre of Rostov-on-Don, to protest against ineffective economic policies and other alleged government failings;

16 different “Strategy-31” meetings between October 2009 and August 2012, intended to be held in Rostov-on-Don in support of the right of freedom of assembly; and an individual picket in front of the State Duma on 19 December 2012, to protest about the law prohibiting the adoption of Russian children by US nationals.

With the exception of the last of these, in each case the applicants submitted a formal notice to the appropriate local authority, notifying it of their intention to hold an event. However, the authorities refused to approve its location, time or manner of conduct.

In some cases where the authorities proposed alternative locations, times or manner of conduct, the applicants allege that the authorities’ proposals did not answer the purpose of their assembly, for example because the proposed locations were not in the city centre, far from any government officers and with limited passage of people, that is not within sight and sound of the target audiences. In other cases they repeatedly refused to approve any location, time or date suggested by the applicants, without suggesting any that would be suitable.

In doing so, the authorities relied on allegedly insufficient or disproportionate grounds.

In one case, the authorities made a decision to approve the time and venue of the event, but allegedly ensured that the applicant(s) would not receive the decision in time for the meeting to actually take place.

Some applicants complain about the general ban on holding public events in the vicinity of court buildings. Other applicants complain about the automatic and inflexible application of the time-limits for notification of public events without taking into account that it was impossible to comply with the time-limit because of public holidays or spontaneous nature of the event. Lastly, several applicants complain about the exceptionally drastic security measures during their public event, in particular that the square where their event was held was fenced off by police vans to make it invisible to the general public.

In most of the cases, the applicants complain that these refusals meant that they could not hold their event at all, as it would have constituted an offence. In some cases however, the applicant(s) proceeded to hold their event as initially planned. All of these events were obstructed or entirely disrupted by the authorities; following which, the applicant(s) was arrested and charged with an administrative offence.

In numerous cases, the applicant(s) challenged the decision not to approve the location, time or manner of conduct of a public event planned by them, by making an appeal in court. In almost every case, the claims were rejected – both at first instance and on appeal – because the courts found that the refusals to approve the location, time or manner of conduct of the events were lawful and properly reasoned.

Relying in on Articles 10 (freedom of expression), 11 (freedom of assembly) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination), the applicants complain that the restrictions imposed on their proposed public events had breached their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly – in numerous cases, by discriminating against them on the grounds of their political opinions or sexual orientation.

Relying on Article 13 (right to an effective remedy) in conjunction with Article 11, the applicants complain that they did not have an effective remedy against the violations of their right to freedom of assembly – in particular, because there was no legal procedure available, which would have allowed them to obtain an enforceable decision prior to the date of their planned events. Three of the applicants also rely on Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) to complain that they were arrested whilst protesting, and that these arrests had been arbitrary and unlawful.

Finally, three applicants rely on Article 6 § 1 (right to a fair trial) to complain about the quashing of a judgment in their favor by way of supervisory review, and one applicant relies on the same Article to complain that he was convicted by a tribunal which was not established by law.

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