The European Court of Human Rights defended Evgeny Shevelev, accused of slandering the ex-head of Mari El Republic, and awarded him compensation in the amount of 790 thousand rubles

28 October 2021

Фото к публикации: 7х7 — Горизонтальная Россия

On 28 September 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in the case of a resident of the village of Medvedevo, according to which the Russian Federation is obliged to pay compensation to the man in the amount of 9480 euros. The reason was a violation of article 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: the right to freedom of expression and information.

7 years ago, Evgeny Shevelev, a resident of the village of Medvedevo, spoke at a rally dedicated to the quality of roads in the Republic of Mari El, because it just boiled over… His emotional speech later became the subject of a lawsuit. Law enforcement agencies, and then the Yoshkar-Ola City Court recognized his words as slander against Leonid Markelov, who was in power at that time.

The reason to find fault was the word “enforcer” used by Evgeny Shevelev. According to the expert linguist, it equates the activities of the ex-head of Mari El Republic to criminal.

As a result, in 2014, the activist was found guilty under Article 128.1 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (“Slander”) and sentenced to a fine of 20,000 rubles. By the way, caring residents of Mari El Republic helped the pensioner to pay this amount, to whom he turned for help in raising funds. An attempt to appeal the court’s decision in the appellate and cassation instances was unsuccessful. The next step was to appeal to Strasbourg. In 2015, the European Court of Human Rights communicated Evgeny Shevelev’s application, prepared by Svetlana Kuzevanova, senior lawyer at the Center for the Protection of Media Rights*.

In the opinion of the European Court, criminal prosecution for expressing an opinion is an excessive interference with the right to freedom of expression. This idea has been repeatedly expressed by the ECHR in the decisions made against the Russian Federation.

One of the main activities of the NGO “Man and Law” is the legal support of cases of civil activists. There were several similar cases in the proceedings of the human rights organization, where Leonid Markelov was the prosecutor and it was a question of violating the right to express an opinion. This is Pavel Tolmachev, who in 2013 was found guilty under Article 128.1 for libel and sentenced to 80 hours of compulsory labor. The complaint in this case is currently under consideration by the UN Human Rights Committee. This is Georgy Pirogov, sentenced under the same article to 6 months of probation, and then to a fine of 30,000 rubles and the obligation to refute publicly the words he had said to the ex-head of Mari El Republic. In 2020, the European Court of Human Rights awarded him compensation in the amount of 10,500 euros. This is Evgeny Pirogov, who was also prosecuted after meeting with Leonid Markelov. At first, the activist was placed in a psychiatric hospital, and then sentenced to compulsory labor.

Sergei Poduzov, co-chairman of the NGO “Man and Law”:

Some of the similar cases concerning freedom of expression have not yet come to their logical conclusion, and the applicants are still fighting for the restoration of their violated rights, including at the international level. Alexey Seregin, Kirill Ezhov, Ramai Yuldash, Olga Aseinova – all these people became victims of severe Internet censorship, in our opinion, their cases were considered by national courts without taking into account the permissible limits of personal evaluative opinion. In addition to the above-mentioned cases, in which our organization has already provided legal support, there are others in which we have not participated. The most terrible thing in this whole situation is that it is impossible to stop the mechanism once launched: cases against civil activists are stamped out, and people are brought to justice, while officials who were once in power leave the arena of political games.

Irina Protasova, chairwoman of NGO “Man and Law”:

Initially, Evgeny Shevelev applied to us, since we were, in fact, the only organization in Mari El Republic that was not afraid to protect civil activists. In turn, we decided to link him with the Center for the Protection of Media Rights*, because it was an expert organization in the field of protecting the rights of journalists and, in general, freedom of speech at the international level. We acted as a link between a civil activist and specialized specialists who were able to provide him with high-quality protection in the European Court of Human Rights and led to victory. Thus, interregional relations of the NGO “Man and Law” allow residents of Mari El Republic to represent their interests adequately and effectively in the process of protecting rights and freedoms. During yesterday’s telephone conversation with me, Evgeny said that he was very glad to hear this news and wanted his case to be widely publicized in the media. It is an example that one should not be afraid to criticize the government that violates the rights of citizens.

Svetlana Kuzevanova, senior lawyer at the Center for the Protection of Media Rights*:

Having considered our application, the ECHR highlighted several important aspects of this case. Firstly, it noted that the Russian courts did not take into account the fact that Shevelev spoke at the rally and the purpose of the speech was to draw attention to the condition of roads in the republic, and it was directed at a person of high position, a public figure. Secondly, speaking, the pensioner expressed his opinion, it was tough, but acceptable in those circumstances. And, thirdly, the Court repeated the idea that had already existed in several decisions against Russia: criminal punishment for possible defamation is excessive interference on the part of the state and it inevitably has a chilling effect on the ability of people to speak freely in Russia. We are very pleased that six years later a fair point has been put in this case.

*The Center for the Protection of Media Rights is an organization included in the register of foreign agents

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