Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny smiles before his hearing at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, eastern France, Thursday, Nov.15, 2018. Russia is awaiting the European court ruling on whether it violated the rights of Navalny when arresting him on repeated occasions. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

European court: Russia's arrests of Navalny were political

November 15, 2018 - 4:53 am

STRASBOURG, France (AP) — The European Court of Human Rights ruled Thursday that Russian authorities' arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were politically motivated, a decision that could embolden Kremlin critics.

Navalny hailed the ruling as an example of "genuine justice" and said it is an important signal for many people in Russia who face arbitrary detentions for their political activities.

The court's highest chamber found that Russian authorities violated multiple human rights in detaining Navalny seven times from 2012 to 2014, and that two of the arrests were expressly aimed at "suppressing political pluralism."

It ordered Russia to pay Navalny 63,000 euros ($71,000) in damages, and called on Russia to fix legislation to "take due regard of the fundamental importance of the right to peaceful assembly."

The ruling is final and binding on Russia as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent's human rights watchdog.

Navalny, arguably Russian President Vladimir Putin's most serious foe, has faced fraud charges widely viewed as political retribution for investigating corruption and leading major anti-government protests.

The Kremlin routinely dismisses Navalny as a trouble-maker with no political backing. Russia's representative to the ECHR, deputy justice minister Mikhail Galperin, argued during a hearing earlier this year that Navalny's arrests were all justified and that his unauthorized rallies put public security at risk. He suggested Navalny staged his arrests to get media attention.

Navalny was present for the announcement in the court's headquarters in the French city of Strasbourg, after a last-minute legal problem delayed his arrival. He has spent a total of more than 140 days behind bars in the past year and a half.

In an initial ruling last year, the European court said that his past arrests were unlawful, but didn't rule on Navalny's arguments that the arrests were politically motivated. The Russian government and Navalny appealed, and the case went to the court's Grand Chamber.

Navalny mounted a grass-roots presidential campaign before he was officially barred from running in this year's election, which Putin overwhelmingly won.

Russia is obliged to carry out the court's rulings, which enforce the European Convention on Human Rights . However, Russia has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued that it is encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.

About a third of the court's cases last year involved Russia, and of 305 judgments concerning Russia in 2017, 293 found at least one rights violation.


Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.

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