The Moscow City Court is preparing to consider a lawsuit aimed at classifying Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and “Team Navalny” offices as “extremist”. The Moscow Prosecutor’s Office stated: “Under the guise of liberal slogans, these organisations are engaged in creating conditions for destabilising the social and the socio-political situation” in Russia. The case will be reviewed behind closed doors and case materials have been classified as “secret”.
If labelled “extremist”, any person or group involved in activities linked to the Navalny movement will be punished under Article 282.2 of the Criminal Code and face between two and six years in prison. Leaders of the movement will face between six and 10 years in prison, and financing the movement will be punishable by three to eight years in prison.
As noted in a 2019 report, Rights in Extremis, relevant anti-extremism legislation in Russia fails to comply with international freedom of expression standards. It is also applied in a repressive manner, often to quell political dissent, thus making it an instrument of state control and censorship.
ARTICLE 19 condemns the decision to restrict access to the proceedings and to information related to it as a violation of human rights law. International law has constantly affirmed that openness is a fundamental element of the judicial process. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) enshrines the right to a fair and public hearing in Articles 14 and 15. In ICCPR General Comment 13, the Human Rights Committee has explained that these rights entail that “publicity of hearings is an important safeguard in the interest of the individual and of society at large,” which must be open to the public and media and can only be restricted in “exceptional circumstances”. The European Court of Human Rights describes public hearings as a “fundamental principle” and has ruled that the mere presence of classified information does not justify closing them off from review. Any restrictions must be strictly necessary.
Further, the public has a right to obtain information on the proceedings beyond being able to attend. The Human Rights Committee has said that “even in cases in which the public is excluded from the trial, the judgment must, with certain strictly defined exceptions, be made public”. The Istanbul Declaration on Transparency in the Judicial Process states that “the judiciary should ensure transparency in the delivery of justice” in Principle 6, which entails that “integrating justice into society requires the judicial system to open up and learn to make itself known. Subject to judicial supervision, the public, the media and court users should have reliable access to all information pertaining to judicial proceedings, both pending and concluded. Such access could be provided on a court website or through appropriate and accessible records. Such information should include reasoned judgments, pleadings, motions and evidence”. The declaration was endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Resolution 2019/22.
The pre-trial proceedings are scheduled to begin on Monday, 26 April. ARTICLE 19 calls on the Russian authorities to drop the lawsuit and ensure the right to information on the details of the proceedings.