Mass Media Defence Centre lodges legal application to ECHR

Mass Media Defence Centre lodges legal application to ECHR
Photo: Kommersant

The resources Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru, ej.ru, Roscomsvoboda and Worldview of Russian Civilization were the first to fall under the application of Lugovoy's law on the blocking for a plea for participation in uncoordinated public assemblies.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) received a memorandum from the Mass Media Defence Centre, which represents the owners of the banned Internet portal Daily Journal (EJ) in a communicated case on the blocking of the sites Kasparov.ru, Grani.ru, ej.ru, Roscomsvoboda and Worldview of Russian Civilization in 2014. These resources were the first to fall under the application of Lugovoy's law on the blocking for a plea for participation in uncoordinated public assemblies. The Ministry of Justice considers the measures to be in conformity with the European Convention.

Mass Media Defence Centre represents Mediaphorus, the first applicant which applied to ECHR, it owns ej.ru. Its complaint to the ECHR was communicated in August of last year, it was united with complaints from Garry Kasparov (Kasparov.ru), as well as the owners of the Grani.ru, Roskomsvoboda and Worldview of Russian Civilization. All of them were blocked by Roskomnadzor at the request of the Prosecutor General's Office in early 2014 for plea for participation in uncoordinated public assemblies on the basis of the amendment to the law "On Information", which came into force on February 1, 2014 (the so-called law of Lugovoy). The Prosecutor General's Office found EJ's publication on Bolotnaya Square case with reports of actions in support of the defendants illegal, the ground for blocking was the calls against nationalization of property in the Crimea. Courts of two instances dismissed the applicants' complaints.

The ECHR sent questions to the RF about whether the guaranteeing freedom of expression under Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights was violated, did the law provide for a mass blocking of websites. In addition, the ECHR was interested in whether the applicants could submit their arguments to the courts and obtain a review on the merits on the blocking of websites, as required by Art. 10 and Art. 13 of the Convention (Freedom of expression and Right to an effective remedy).

In February, the Ministry of Justice informed the ECHR that in such cases the "spreading of banned appeals” was "significant fact of the case." The court confirmed that these were "appeals", and it was enough to recognize the blocking as legitimate, the Justice Ministry said. At the same time, the Ministry of Justice referred to the refusal of the Constitutional Court of 2014 in the case of Vladimir Kharitonov (who also appealed to the ECHR). He complained that blocking of one website results in restricted access to the same network address and allowed sites. The Constitutional Court did not consider the case, but pointed out that it was not the authorities that were to blame for such problems, but providers that the applicants should deal with independently. The Justice Ministry stressed that the way to restrict access to the website was also chosen not by the authorities, but the provider, and the measures challenged by the ECHR were found "proportional and necessary". The applicants, in the opinion of the Ministry of Justice, did not exhaust the effective remedies, since they did not appeal against the refusal in the cassation.

Mass Media Defence Centre informed in response to the memorandum the ECHR that the new portal of socio-political information www.ej2015.ru was blocked on the basis of the request of the Prosecutor General's Office in 2014, which banned access to any resources of the EJ in case of transfer of prohibited information to other sites or creating their mirrors. The owner of the domain does not consider the new site as a mirror, as the archive of EJ publications was not placed there, said its representative Svetlana Kuzevanova. Yesterday the Tagansky District Court began to consider the applicant's complaint about this blocking, but the meeting was postponed.

The applicant's memorandum states that such wide and non-selective restrictions on freedom of expression, like blocking the entire Internet resource, rather than restricting access to specific information, do not meet the criteria of the European Convention and the UN Covenant on International and Political Rights. In the applicants' opinion, the blocking without explanation of the reasons and pointing to specific texts violated the rights of the editorial office and its authors, court decisions were made in violation of the requirements of the Convention to establish the facts of abuse of freedom of speech, and the laws regulating the blocking do not meet the criteria of the ECHR and the Constitutional Court. At the same time, the applicant notes that the Prosecutor General's Office did not specify texts, which leads to "eternal blocking", the Prosecutor's Office does not check the updated resources before blocking. Courts consider cases formally and without proper motivation of decisions, and unlimited power of the Prosecutor's Office are contrary to the principles of the rule of law, the memorandum says.

"This case is the first one within Lugovoy's law implementation, and it is very important what opinion the ECHR will pass. Now, the non-transparent procedure under this law is used very actively, knocking out information and sites as a political sledgehammer," said head of Mass Media Defence Centre Galina Arapova.

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