Europe’s highest human rights court ordered Russia to release jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a ruling quickly rejected on Wednesday by Russian authorities who are hell-bent on isolating the Kremlin’s most prominent enemy.
The decision of the European Court of Human Rights had demanded that Russia release Navalny immediately and warns that failure to do so would constitute a violation of the European convention on human rights.
Russia’s Justice Minister dismissed the court’s claim as “unfounded and illegal” and the Foreign Ministry denounced it as part of Western meddling in the country’s internal affairs.
Navalny, 44, a leading anti-corruption investigator and critic of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested last month on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from nerve agent poisoning that he attributes to the Kremlin. The Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
Earlier this month, a Moscow court sentenced Navalny to two years and eight months in prison for violating the terms of his probation while recovering in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated and the European court has ruled is illegal.
In its ruling on Tuesday, the European Court of Human Rights pointed to Rule 39 of its regulations and forced the Russian government to release Navalny, citing “the nature and extent of the risk to the life of the applicant.”
“This measure will be applied with immediate effect,” the Strasbourg-based court said in a statement.
The court noted that Navalny has challenged the Russian authorities’ argument that they had taken sufficient measures to safeguard his life and well-being in custody after the nerve agent attack.
Russian Justice Minister Konstantin Chuichenko rejected the court’s ruling as “clear and crude interference” in Russia’s judicial system.
“This claim is unfounded and illegal because it does not indicate a single fact or a legal rule that would allow the court to render such a verdict,” Chuichenko said in a statement released by Russian news agencies. “This demand cannot be met because there is no legal reason for that person to be released from custody under Russian law. Well aware of that, European judges have clearly made a political decision that could only exacerbate the re-establishment of constructive relations with the institutions of the Council of Europe. “
In the past, Moscow has complied with ECHR rulings granting compensation to Russian citizens who have challenged the verdicts in Russian courts, but never faced a lawsuit from the European court to release a convict.
Reflecting its growing irritation over the verdicts of the European court, Russia last year adopted a constitutional amendment declaring the priority of national legislation over international law. Russian authorities could now use that provision to reject the ECHR’s decision.
Mikhail Yemelyanov, deputy chairman of the legal affairs committee in the Kremlin-controlled lower house of parliament, pointed to the constitutional change, noting that it gives Russia the right to ignore the ECHR ruling, according to the Interfax news agency.
But Navalny’s chief strategist Leonid Volkov argued that Russia’s membership in the Council of Europe forces it to comply with the court’s ruling. He warned on Facebook that the country risks losing its membership in the main human rights organization on the continent if it does not comply with the order.
Navalny’s arrest and imprisonment fueled a wave of protests in Russia. The authorities responded with heavy repression, arresting some 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or sentenced to prison terms of between seven and 15 days.
Russia has dismissed Western criticism of Navalny’s arrest and crackdown on demonstrations as meddling in its internal affairs.
In televised statements, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova denounced the ECHR ruling as a blow to international law and “part of a campaign to exert pressure on our country and meddle in the internal affairs of our country.” .
A court hearing on Navalny’s appeal of his sentence is scheduled for Saturday.
He has also faced legal proceedings in a separate case on charges of defamation of a World War II veteran. Navalny, who called the 94-year-old veteran and others featured in a pro-Kremlin video “corrupt puppets,” “people without conscience,” and “traitors,” has dismissed the defamation charges, describing them as part of official efforts. to look down on him.
With his usual sardonic humor, Navalny compared his conditions in the Matrosskaya Tishina maximum security prison in Moscow to the isolation of a space traveler.
“The uniformed people who come to me say only a few formulaic sentences, you see a light indicating a working video camera on their chests; they look like androids,” he said in comments posted on Instagram. “And like in a movie.” About space travel, the ship’s command center communicates with me. A voice from the intercom said, “3-0-2, prepare for medical treatment.” And I’d say, ‘Okay, just give me 10 minutes to finish my tea.’
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism