Yezhov and Others v. Russia (Application no. 22051/05)
A selection of key paragraphs can be found below the judgement.CASE-OF-YEZHOV-AND-OTHERS-v.-RUSSIA
32. As to whether the measures in issue corresponded to a “pressing social need”, the Court notes that the applicants’ protest concerned a topic of public interest, that is, the pending introduction of a controversial law and that they wished to draw the attention of their fellow citizens and public officials to their disapproval of it. The Court however considers that they did not have a right to enter a publicly owned property, such as the office building of the Ministry, in the manner that they did, to express their opinion (see, for similar reasoning, Taranenko v. Russia, no. 19554/05, §§ 77-78, 15 May 2014). The police were therefore justified in arresting the applicants and removing them from the premises of the Ministry, with a view to the protection of public order and the resumption of the Ministry’s functions, and those actions appear proportionate to the aim pursued. Whether their criminal convictions also met a pressing social need will depend on the reasons provided by the national courts and the proportionality of the sentences.
33. … the District Court in the present case did not seek to establish, to the extent possible, the individual role of each of the applicants during the protest, the extent of their involvement and their individual acts during the protest, having thus deprived them of opportunity to contest the concrete reasons for limiting their freedom of expression (see Gülcü v. Turkey, no.17526/10, §§ 113-14, 19 January 2016). By failing to make an individual assessment of facts in respect of each of the applicants, the District Court denied them an important procedural safeguard against arbitrary interference with the rights protected under Article 10 of the Convention (ibid., § 114; Hakobyan and Others v. Armenia, no. 34320/04, § 99, 10 April 2012).
34. Furthermore, the District Court condemned, in rather clear terms, not only the criminal acts imputed to the applicants but also the content and the form of the message conveyed by them (“prepared … anti-government leaflets”, “chanting anti-government slogans”, “showing manifest lack of respect for … State authority by … throwing the portrait of the President of the Russian Federation out of the window”) and penalised them for that political message (see, for similar reasoning, Stepan Zimin v. Russia, nos. 63686/13 and 60894/14, § 76, 30 January 2018). By doing so, the District Court showed a degree of animus towards the applicants’ political views that is difficult to reconcile with the Article 10 duty on national authorities to remain neutral with respect to legitimate political viewpoints and not to dissuade others from criticising government policies altogether. The District Court considered the applicants’ anti-government rhetoric as unacceptable or even criminal, thus going beyond the narrow margin of appreciation afforded to the domestic authorities under Article 10 in respect of political speech, matters of public interest and criticism of the government, all of which enjoy a high level of protection from State interference (see Bédat v. Switzerland [GC], no. 56925/08, § 49, 29 March 2016, with further references; see also Incal v. Turkey, 9 June 1998, § 54, Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1998‑IV).
35. Therefore, considering the lack of any individualised assessment of each of the applicants’ role in the protest and the adverse attitude of the District Court towards their political message, the Court is not convinced that the reasons given in support of the applicants’ conviction were “relevant and sufficient” for the purposes of Article 10 § 2 of the Convention.