Navalny complained about seven of the arrests in 2012 and 2014 to the European human rights court, which has had jurisdiction over Russian cases since the country signed the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998, under President Boris Yeltsin. The ruling Thursday asserts that “the authorities were becoming increasingly severe towards Mr. Navalny and that his allegation of being a particular target appeared coherent in the context of a general move to bring the opposition under control.” The court pointed out that the repeated arrests violated the convention and said Russia’s regulatory framework had a “structural inadequacy” when it came to the right of peaceful assembly, namely that it shouldn’t be illegal to protest without a government permit.
The European decision won’t end the harassment; Navalny was turned away at the Russian border as he was en route to the court’s headquarters in Strasbourg to hear the ruling. He was forced to pay a large fine related to his 2013 conviction, then finally allowed to make the trip. Russia, however, isn’t likely to pay the 64,000 euros ($72,000) in fines imposed by the European court: In 2015, it adopted a law that allows the government to disregard the court’s rulings if they contradict the
Nonetheless, Navalny celebrated the ruling, which deemed the Russian authorities’ pseudo-legal campaign against him as a human rights violation. It’s important that the court invoked Article 18 of the Convention on Human Rights forbidding restrictions of basic freedoms for arbitrary reasons, something the Putin regime often does while pretending that it sticks to a legal framework.
Navalny may be one of the last Russians to have recourse to the European court. Given the Kremlin’s open disdain for Western institutions and the Western concept of human rights, Russia’s status as a signatory to the European convention is increasingly hard to justify. In March, RIA Novosti, the official news agency, reported, cited unnamed government sources who said Russia could soon renounce the convention because of the “politicized” “double standards” of the European court.
Thursday’s high-profile decision in favor of an opposition figure will inevitably stoke the Kremlin’s desire to get rid of the pesky human rights watchdog. The court has ruled on thousands of Russian cases, often against the government, drawing attention to ugly prison conditions, the shabby treatment of immigrants and the plight of anti-regime activists. There’s little benefit for the Kremlin in holding on to remnants of Yeltsin’s ambition to make Russia an integral part of Europe.