European court orders Russia to pay damages to opposition politician

From left, Russian opposition activists Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin and Garry Kasparov lead a protest march in downtown Moscow in 2012.
From left, Russian opposition activists Boris Nemtsov, Ilya Yashin and Garry Kasparov lead a protest march in downtown Moscow in 2012.
(Sergei L. Loiko / Los Angeles Times)
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The European Court of Human Rights on Thursday ordered Russia to pay damages for civil rights violations against a prominent opposition politician who was arrested at a street protest in Moscow in 2010 and subsequently detained.

In the second of two rulings against Russia on Thursday, the Strasbourg, France-based court said the arrest of Boris Nemtsov, a former vice prime minister who co-chairs the Parnas party, at a peaceful opposition rally on New Year’s Eve was “arbitrary and unlawful.”

The court ordered the Russian government to pay about $35,000 in damages and about $3,300 in expenses.


It was not clear whether Russia’s Justice Ministry, which Thursday criticized recent European court rulings as politically motivated, would pay.

Nemtsov was arrested at the end of the rally after delivering a speech sharply critical of the Kremlin for the conviction of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the billionaire founder of the Yukos oil corporation, who was sentenced to eight years in jail in 2005 on charges of fraud and tax evasion.

Nemtsov had chanted antigovernment slogans before being taken into custody and charged with an administrative offense. He subsequently served a 15-day sentence.

After examining the evidence, the European court found that Nemtsov’s arrest had been arbitrary and that “the proceedings against him had the serious potential to deter others from participating in demonstrations and open public debate.”

In an interview Thursday with Echo of Moscow radio, Nemtsov said the ruling sent an important signal to the Russian judiciary to respect citizens’ rights to free assembly.

“Putin’s courts will now have to understand clearly that the arrest of peaceful demonstrators is against the law and violates the declaration of human rights,” he said.


The ruling came as an unexpected morale boost to a Russian opposition movement that has lost momentum in the last year as President Vladimir Putin’s government has cracked down on dissent.

Alexei Venediktov, editor in chief of Echo of Moscow, who was present at the court hearing, said it was “amazing” that Nemtsov had won his three-year legal battle.

Nemtsov said he would use any money he receives from the ruling to support the Russian opposition movement and activists in custody.

In a separate ruling Thursday, the ECHR ordered Russia to pay the equivalent of $2.5 billion to Yukos’ former shareholders to compensate for the irregular tax claims that led to the bankruptcy and liquidation of the oil company.

Earlier this week, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordered Russia to pay more than $50 billion in damages to the former Yukos shareholders. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would appeal that ruling.

Gorst is a special correspondent.