Case of Verzilov and Others v. Russia (Application no. 25276/15)

A selection of key paragraphs can be found below the judgment.


73. The Court observes that the applicants’ allegations of the attack perpetrated against them by Cossacks were supported by medical records of the injuries sustained by the first, second, fourth and fifth applicants, witness statements and video recordings (see paragraphs 12-13, 27 and 30-31 above), and have not been disputed by the Government. In particular, it was not disputed between the parties that the attack had not been preceded by any warning, that it had started immediately after the applicants had commenced their performance and had ended about two minutes later as soon as they had abandoned it, and that the applicants had not acted in any manner which could have warranted the use of force against them. The attack included such violent acts as being grabbed, pushed and pulled by the arms and having their balaclavas ripped off, being subjected to the use of pepper spray (the first and fifth applicants), being hit with a whip (the second and fifth applicants), being thrown to the ground (the third and fifth applicant) and receiving a blow to the head (the fourth applicant).

74. The Court finds that the attack has been established “beyond reasonable doubt”, and that the situation in which the applicants found themselves during the attack was not compatible with respect for their human dignity and reached the threshold of severity for Article 3 of the Convention to apply.

95. The Cossacks’ unjustified use of force in the present case caused the applicants physical pain and injuries, humiliating them, showing a lack of respect for and diminishing their human dignity, and arousing feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority on their part. It amounted to degrading treatment, which must be imputable to the respondent State.

101. Having regard to the relevant general principles governing the application of Article 10 of the Convention and, in so far as relevant to the present case concerning the applicants’ expression of their opinion through a public performance, Article 11 of the Convention (see Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, no. 38004/12, §§ 197-200, 17 July 2018, and Identoba and Others, cited above, §§ 93-95), as well as to its thorough factual and legal findings set out above under Article 3, which are equally pertinent in the circumstances of the present case to the complaints relating to freedom of expression, the Court considers that the State was responsible for the violent attack on the applicants by Cossacks, preventing the applicants from proceeding with their artistic performance in Sochi on 19 February 2014. The Cossacks were involved in carrying out State service to assist the police in maintaining public order and the State was responsible for regulating their activities appropriately, and for their training and supervision in order to shield individuals adequately from ill-treatment, in particular when exercising freedom of expression. The respondent State failed to discharge its duty not to interfere unlawfully and disproportionately with the right to freedom of expression and to take reasonable and appropriate measures to enable the exercise of freedom of expression to proceed peacefully in the present case (see, mutatis mutandis, Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group and Others, cited above, §§ 83-84).

102. There has accordingly been a violation of Article 10 of the Convention.


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