ECHR will verify freedom of speech with the case of Greenpeace

Photo: Reuters / Alexandre Meneghini

International Media Organizations Legal Defense Initiative (MLDI) and Article 19, defending the rights of the media and freedom of expression, submitted a memorandum to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the case of participants in the Greenpeace action against Russia. NGOs supported the complaint of journalists for violation of their right to cover an environmental action against oil production in the Pechora Sea, for which they were arrested along with activists and crew members of the Arctic Sunrise. The Russian authorities received a respite to answer the ECHR’s questions before May.

The case “Brian and Others v. Russia” on the complaints of 30 applicants from 17 countries (including four Russians) ECHR communicated in December last year. Two journalists, environmentalists and crewmembers of the Dutch vessel Arctic Sunrise challenged the ECHR illegal detention, arrest and interference with freedom of speech in connection with a peaceful rally against oil production in the Arctic. The activists tried to place a banner on the Prirazlomnaya gas platform in the Pechora Sea in September 2013, after which all those who were on board the Arctic Sunrise were arrested in a piracy case (which was later re-qualified as “Hooliganism”), and three months later released on amnesty. The Hague interstate arbitration ordered Russia to pay damages to the Netherlands, under whose flag the Arctic Sunrise was flying, about € 5.4 million for the damage caused to the ship and the people on it, but this decision was not executed.

The applicants convince the ECtHR that Russia in this case violated Art. 10 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (on freedom of expression) twice: the right of activists to peaceful protest and the right of journalists (one of them was Russian photographer Denis Sinyakov) to collect and disseminate information about such protests. Supported journalists MLDI and Article 19 call the case “a characteristic example of the harassment and threats faced by environmental activists and journalists in Russia.” “There is strong evidence that environmental journalists and human rights defenders are subjected to frequent physical and legal threats and harassment in the Russian Federation, including under article of hooliganism,” international experts are convinced.

ECHR will verify freedom of speech with the case of Greenpeace

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The Memorandum states that only in 2017 at least seven journalists were seriously injured or harassed by the authorities after investigating environmental problems. The attacks were committed against reporters of Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty in Kropotkin in the south of Russia (they were going to shoot a “tractor march” of farmers against the seizure of their land by large companies), investigative journalist Galina Sidorova in Yoshkar-Ola and an environmental blogger Ilya Varlamov in Stavropol. The journalist of the “Caucasian Knot” Vyacheslav Prudnikov received a gunshot wound in the Rostov region after covering the protests of miners against the actions of the municipal authorities. Several environmentalists “were seriously injured after investigating information on illegal logging and construction conducted by a private company” allegedly connected with high-ranking officials. At the same time, the coordinator of the Ecological Watch for the North Caucasus, Andrei Rudomakha, received a brain injury and eye burn. Accredited journalist Thomas Nielsen (Norway), who covered the drilling of oil wells in the Arctic, was denied entry to Russia.

The memorandum notes the need for special monitoring of actions against journalists and the imposition of fines and sanctions on them: “The basic position should be that such sanctions are not needed in a democratic society, and criminal prosecution is extremely rarely proportionate.” “The decisions of Russian courts on such cases are formal, courts do not distinguish between protesters and journalists, thus violating journalists’ rights to unhindered professional activities in defense of public interest,” Galina Arapova, head of the Media Protection Center, told Kommersant.

ECHR will verify freedom of speech with the case of Greenpeace

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As international experts emphasize, the standards of protection of a journalist covering public actions should be extended to anyone who performs journalistic functions. “This aspect of Article 10 of the Convention is becoming important in the modern conditions, when journalistic functions are performed not only by professional journalists, but also by bloggers, civil activists, representatives of NGOs,” confirms Mrs. Arapova. She noted that in Russia the restriction of the right to access to information is usually motivated by the lack of media accreditation. Such an approach contradicts the national law on the media, and the ECHR can recognize it as a violation of the convention, the expert predicts.

“We welcome the memorandum presented by the leading international NGOs specializing in the field of freedom of speech,” the representative of the applicants, lawyer Sergei Golubok, told Kommersant. Their memoranda as third parties in this case must also be submitted to the ECHR by the Governments of the Netherlands, Ukraine and Sweden. At the same time, the Russian authorities asked for a postponement in Strasbourg for the preparation of the memorandum and should provide answers to the ECHR’s questions in May.

Anna Pushkarskaya, St. Petersburg

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