The European judicial tribunal on Wednesday asked Russia to release the imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny out of concern for his life, but Moscow quickly rejected the appeal.
Navalny, the outspoken opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested and jailed after returning to Russia last month after months of treatment in Germany for nerve agent poisoning accused of the Kremlin.
His prison sparked the largest anti-government demonstrations in years and a new crisis in Russia’s relations with the West, whose leaders are calling for the anti-corruption fighter to be released.
Navalny, 44, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights on January 20, just days after his arrest at a Moscow airport, saying that his life would be in danger if he was kept in custody.
The Strasbourg-based court said on Wednesday that it had granted this request and asked Moscow to release Navalny “with immediate effect.”
The judgment had been issued “in relation to the nature and extent of the risk to the applicant’s life”.
Russia is a member of the Council of Europe, whose rights include the ECHR. Member States have an obligation to enforce ECHR decisions, and in the past Russia has done so in cases where Navalny has been involved.
However, shortly after the court published its decision, the Russian Justice Ministry said his demands were “unreasonable and unlawful” and that there were no legal grounds for releasing Navalny.
Justice Minister Konstantin Chuychenko told the Interfax news agency that the ECHR’s demands represent “clear and gross interference” in the activities of the Russian judicial system.
Following the constitutional amendments introduced in Russia last year, decisions that are enforced by international treaties cannot be carried out if they contradict the Russian Basic Law.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova accused the ECHR on Wednesday of “putting pressure” on Russia and “meddling” in its internal affairs.
– Back in court on Saturday –
Navalny is being held in a Moscow detention center after a court ruled earlier this month to commute a suspended sentence for fraud, which he sentenced to nearly three years in prison in 2014 for alleged parole violations.
The ECHR ruled in 2017 that the decision in this case was “arbitrary” and ordered Russia to pay compensation to Navalny and his brother Oleg, who was in prison.
Navalny will be on trial again Saturday to appeal his prison on this case and another trial in which he is charged with defamation for alleging World War II veteran and others who have been identified as “traitors” in Kremlin-friendly videos appeared, called.
Prosecutors have asked the court to fine Navalny 950,000 rubles (US $ 13,000 / € 10,600) in the case of defamation.
In his complaint to the ECHR, Navalny argued that the Russian government could not take “adequate protective measures” for his life and health while he was in detention.
Navalny fell seriously ill on a flight over Siberia last August and was flown to Berlin for treatment. Western scientists later concluded that he was poisoned with a Soviet-era neurotoxin, novichok.
While Navalny, whose investigations into the lavish lifestyle of the Russian elite have enraged many rulers, has ordered Putin to launch the attack, the Kremlin has repeatedly denied involvement.
Navalny’s allies insisted on Wednesday that Russia must continue to follow ECHR decisions.
“This has to be done, it just can’t be stated otherwise that the European Convention on Human Rights is part of Russian legislation,” his lawyer Olga Mikhailova told AFP.
“Russia has always complied with such decisions and will now implement them,” Ivan Zhdanov, a key adviser and lawyer to Navalny, wrote on Telegram.
The head of the Navalny regional network, Leonid Volkov, said the decision was “binding” on Russia in line with its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe.
He said non-compliance could exclude Russia from the council and lead to “numerous and far-reaching consequences,” such as the breach of a number of international agreements.
Other Council of Europe members have refused to enforce the court’s rulings, including Turkey, which has rejected the court’s calls for the release of a Kurdish political leader and civil society accused of involvement in a 2016 coup attempt.