Russia’s repeated arrests of opposition leader Alexei Navalny are politically motivated, the European court of human rights (ECHR) has ruled, in a sharp rebuke of the Russian authorities that is sure to provoke anger in Moscow.
In a ruling released on its website, the Strasbourg-based court ruled that seven arrests of the Russian corruption whistleblower dating from 2012 to 2014 were politically motivated under the terms of the European convention on human rights, to which Russia is a partner.
The arrests were aimed at “suppressing political pluralism”, the ruling said.
In a final, binding decision, the court’s grand chamber ordered Russian authorities to pay €63,000 (£55,600) in compensation for moral harm, material damages and court costs.
Navalny, a leading critic of Russian Vladimir Putin, has been repeatedly detained, arrested and charged since 2012, including being convicted for fraud, an act that he has called politically motivated.
Navalny was in court on Thursday, after flying out of Russia on Wednesday. On Tuesday he had been barred from leaving Moscow airport by border guards.
In a tweet on Thursday, he wrote: “We won. Completely. The government was destroyed. They recognised the 18th amendment. Ura!”
Russia has accused the west of backing Navalny and will likely reject the court’s decision with anger. Earlier this year, Russian state news agencies reported that Russia was considering withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. The news agencies also suggested Russia may cease cooperation with the ECHR.
The court ruled last year that seven of his arrests were unlawful and ordered Russia to pay €63,000. But the court didn’t rule on Navalny’s arguments that the arrests were politically motivated. The Russian government and Navalny appealed, and the case went to the court’s grand chamber.
Navalny, arguably Russia’s most popular opposition figure, has faced fraud charges widely viewed as political retribution for investigating corruption and leading major anti-government protests.
Navalny mounted a grassroots presidential campaign before he was officially barred from running in this year’s election, which Vladimir Putin overwhelmingly won.
Russia is obliged to carry out the court’s rulings as a member of the Council of Europe, the continent’s human rights watchdog. However, Russia has delayed implementing past rulings from the court and argued that it is encroaching on Russian judicial sovereignty.
About a third of the court’s cases last year involved Russia, and of 305 judgments concerning the country in 2017, 293 found at least one rights violation.