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RFE/RL Seeks Hearing From European Court of Human Rights In Its Priority Case Against Russia

Inside the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.
Inside the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, France.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Moscow Bureau (RFE/RL) and its general director, Andrey Shary, filed their final written submission with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on February 9, asking the Court for a hearing to consider the merits. The brief was submitted in response to the Russian government’s “Written Observations” on RFE/RL’s legal case challenging Russia’s “foreign agent” laws, which have resulted in fines worth millions of dollars being imposed on the bureau and Mr. Shary since January 2021.

In their brief, RFE/RL has maintained its argument that Russia’s “foreign agent” content-labeling law and associated fines violate the right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which Russia is legally bound to uphold. RFE/RL also updated the Court on the worsening climate for its journalists in Russia, as evidenced by the addition of numerous reporters to the registry of “foreign agents,” the issuance of more than 70 demands from Russia’s media regulator that RFE/RL delete from its websites articles about investigations by Alexey Navalny’s organization, and a legally groundless judgment against RFE/RL for accurately reporting on Marshal Georgy Zhukov’s recommendation during World War II that surrendering soldiers and their families be threatened with execution.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said, “The Kremlin, in its effort to exert complete information control over the Russian public, is attempting to criminalize journalism and smear individual Russian journalists as traitors. We urge the European Court of Human Rights to consider and rule on the legality of the ‘foreign agent’ laws which are threatening the fundamental human rights of our journalists and every single Russian citizen.”

On June 17, 2021, the ECHR granted the RFE/RL case “priority” status – which it reserves for the most important, serious, and urgent cases – within a month of its submission, and formally communicated its acceptance to the government of Russia. Russia filed its “Written Observations” in response to the case this past November.

Since January 2021, Russian regulators have issued more than one thousand administrative cases against RFE/RL and Mr. Shary in the Russian courts, carrying fines that may total $13.4 million (RUB 1 billion). Russian court bailiffs visited RFE/RL’s Moscow bureau twice to notify the organization about enforcement proceedings for the fines arising from RFE/RL’s refusal to label its content. RFE/RL’s Russian bank accounts were frozen by court order in May 2021. RFE/RL has appealed hundreds of cases, but not a single court has upheld RFE/RL’s legal challenges or decreased the levels of fines imposed by Roskomnadzor.

Since 2017, when Russia expanded its controversial “foreign agent” laws to include media outlets, nine of RFE/RL’s news outlets have been designated “foreign agents” by the Russian Ministry of Justice, as have eighteen freelance journalists associated with RFE/RL. The law on “foreign agents” has been condemned by EU High Commissioner Josep Borrell, the European Parliament, the U.S. Department of State, and other international bodies as an infringement of fundamental freedoms.

RFE/RL is represented in the European Court of Human Rights by English barristers Can Yeginsu and Ian McDonald, instructed by the international law firm, Covington & Burling LLP.

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About RFE/RL 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is a private, independent international news organization whose programs — radio, Internet, television, and mobile — reach influential audiences in 23 countries, including Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the republics of Central Asia and the Caucasus. It is funded by the U.S. Congress through USAGM.