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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Another Day, Another Conviction for Russia in the ECHR

The Moscow Times reports:

Three Russian journalists were unfairly punished for criticizing regional officials in print, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg decided in two separate rulings Tuesday. The first was Viktor Chemodurov, a reporter for a local newspaper in Kursk who called then Kursk region Governor Alexander Rutskoi "abnormal" for publicly criticizing allegations from the journalist about the misappropriation of regional funds in 2000. The second ruling was handed down in favor of Viktor Dyuldin and Alexander Kislov, two journalists who wrote an open letter to President Vladimir Putin in a Penza business newspaper accusing the local authorities of clamping down on media trying to expose corruption. All three journalists lost lawsuits brought by regional officials and were hit with small fines.

Rulings on freedom of expression in Russia, based on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, are rare. Tuesday's decisions were only the fourth and fifth the court has ever handed down, said Andrei Richter, of the Center for Law and Media. "This, unfortunately, means nothing," Richter said Tuesday. "People in Russia are just not aware of what happens in Strasbourg because it is ignored by the state-controlled media." As a result, Richter said, judges will "continue to make mistakes" in cases dealing with freedom of expression in the media. Chemodurov called the court's award of 1,000 euros ($1,370) in damages "small change" from Kursk on Tuesday, but he described the ruling itself as "wonderful."

"We've been fighting for this verdict for so long," Chemodurov said. "It seems like someone reasonable is watching what is going on in Russia." Dyuldin and Kislov could not be reached Tuesday. Oleg Panfilov, director of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the rulings were "great news."

"But it illustrates a sad situation," Panfilov said. "The Strasbourg court is Russia's only functioning court." Of the almost 90,000 applications before the 47-member court at the beginning of the year, 20 percent of them were from Russian citizens. Most of the complaints are related to events in Chechnya, and in particular to charges that the authorities are responsible for the deaths and disappearance of countless civilians. In a sign that the cases have become an irritant to the government, Constitutional Court Chairman Valery Zorkin suggested earlier this month that the Constitution be amended to require cases to go through the Supreme Court before they can be filed in Strasbourg.

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